Editorial: Season of Silly?
We tend not to run negative stories at the World SF Blog, focusing mostly on trying to bring to people’s attention all the cool things being written and done around the world in SF/F (and horror, and comics, and genre films). But this has been going on the blogosphere for a while, starting with a review of the Requires That You Hate blog of author R. Scott Bakker. The blog, run by a Thai fan, has come under extraordinary attack. Here she summarises some of it:
You will have heard of the Bakker brouhaha, if you are here. Let’s have a chronology:
- Requires Only That You Hate – R. Scott Bakker: Prince of Misogyny – dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker – Sweet Manna - dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker - Misanthropology 101 – dated 1 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker - Requires Only Haidt – dated 6 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker - The Halftime Show – dated 10 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker - That Empty Place – dated 16 February 2012
- Peter Watts – In Vicarious Defense of R. Scott Bakker – dated 16 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – Um, does anybody got a mint? – dated 18 February 2012
You may be thinking I’ve willfully obscured something. Surely, surely no grown adult man could go on about that one post from August 2011… six months later? Surely not? I must have consistently attacked him! Blogged about him! Many times! Perhaps I may even have personally harassed him! Such is the way of bitchy, angry feminists: we hound offensive men to the end of the earth. So much so that their sales figures suffer and their family goes poor. (For your perusal and pleasure, try this bit of flash fiction by Elodie.)
Alas, no. I made but that one post. Ever after any mention of Bakker on this blog has been peripheral, because I didn’t care about him all that much, and wouldn’t especially want to read his books. But there it is: Bakker stewed over this, apparently, for six entire months. Peter Watts, who is a magical friend of Bakker’s, proceeded to call me “a rabid animal.” Something which even a person who finds me “toxic” recognizes as a loaded term. Not that Peter Watts would admit there’s any problem with him saying that because even if I’d been a fellow nerdy white boy he’d have called me the same, though even after having been told I’m a woman of color it did not stop him from graduating to “foul, rabid animal” which tells you all you need to know. You can go through the rest of that exchange, but I’m more interested in the larger picture of this. Which is: why is it that these people are so deathly afraid of being called sexist, racist, or any such thing… to that froth-at-the-mouth point where they go on to compound the offense by actively being sexist or racist?
In opposition, here are two other writers – Mark Charan Newton writes about Things He Got Wrong, while he and Jesse Bullington have a measured, fascinating conversation about the pitfalls of writing about race and gender. They are a masterclass in how to address the issues with humility and consideration. Here is Bullington:
I went through a similar sort of Palomarian lizard-gazing with my last novel, as I knew from inception I wanted an African woman protagonist. That I figured out early on that she was also going to be a lesbian didn’t exactly make the process any less fraught with doubts over whether or not I was shitting the bed at any given point in the story. Now that the book is the better part of a year out in the wild, I’m quite a bit more confident in my work–not because I think I did such a great job and aren’t I just the awesomest for writing about GBLT PoC, but because I know I did the very best that I could, and I thought very, very carefully about what I was doing. Which, dahoy, is what we should be doing as writers any way, all the time, but I imagine for some authors who shall remain nameless, potentially difficult subjects are an afterthought rather than a starting point.
That said, I know from an amazon review of Enterprise that for at least one reader who identified as a woman of color I did an awful, offensive job of it, which is about the worst feeling in the world. Compounding matters, the particulars that she took issue with were all things I did intentionally to subvert racial stereotypes–rather than being a tall, light-skinned, “exotically” hawt sex-interest for a white dude, my protagonist Awa is short, very dark-skinned, uninterested in men, and not exactly attractive to the white, European characters she encounters.
For this reader, however, rather than it being refreshing to see a black protagonist who didn’t fit into the popular genre parameters for women of color, it was odious–she thought I was objectively implying darker-skinned Africans are less attractive than lighter-skinned individuals, when I was actively trying to recreate the cultural climate of Renaissance Europe–a climate with standards of beauty that are all-too easily mirrored in our own problematic times (then there’s my general antipathy to the idea that protagonists have to be physically beautiful…). Furthermore, Awa’s being a lesbian was seen, I gather, as my relegating her to a non-sexual “mammy role” for the novel’s white male protagonist, rather than an attempt on my part to actively portray a lesbian that didn’t exist solely to titillate straight male readers.
It wasn’t my intention to offend, and the source of the offense was in the (attempted) service of writing something that played against stereotypes of what a black heroine could be…but that doesn’t invalidate said reader’s emotional reaction to what I wrote. The bottom line is I’ll never be able to undo the hurt that I caused her, however inadvertently, which, yeah, is a shitty feeling,
and one that I have to own–and acknowledge that my having my widdle progressive author feelings hurt is a good deal less sucky than encountering awful stereotypes about yourself on the page, the screen, etc. on a regular basis.
In contrast to that, here is a rather extraordinary post from Patrick Rothfuss, adding to the whole sense that we’ve somehow entered the silly month in sci fi, on that geek girl from school, who became a porn star. Because, you know, that’s what happens to geek girls.
You know that it’s going to be like? It’s going to be like wandering onto an internet porn site and seeing a video of a girl I had a crush on in high school. You probably knew someone like her. The smart girl. The shy girl. The one who wore glasses and was a little socially awkward. The one who screwed up the curve in chemistry so you got an A- instead of an A.
She was a geek girl before anybody knew what a geek girl was. And that was kinda awesome, because you were a geek boy before being a geek was culturally acceptable.
You liked her because she was funny. And she was smart. And you could actually talk to her. And she read books.
And sure, she was girl-shaped, and that was cool. And she was cute, in an understated, freckly way. And sometimes you’d stare at her breasts when you were supposed to be paying attention in biology. But you were 16. You stared at everyone’s breasts back then.
And yeah, you had some fantasies about her, because, again, you were 16. But they were fairly modest fantasies about making out in the back of a car. Maybe you’d get to second base. Maybe you could steal third if you were lucky.
And maybe, just maybe, something delightful and terrifying might happen. And yeah, it would probably be awkward and fumbling at times, but that’s okay because she’d be doing half the fumbling too. Because the only experience either one of you had was from books. And afterwards, if you make a Star Wars joke, you know she’ll get it, and she’ll laugh….
That’s the girl you fell in love with in high school. You didn’t have a crush on her because she was some simmering pool of molten sex. You loved her because she was subtle and sweet and smart and special.
So you stroll onto this porn site, and there she is. Except now she’s wearing a thong and a black leather halter top. She’s wearing fuck-me red lipstick and a lot of dark eye makeup. Her breasts are amazing now, proud and perfectly round.
Someone’s taught her to dance, and she does it well. She’s flexible and tan. She has a flat midriff and walks like a high-class Vegas stripper. Her eyes are dark and smouldering. She has a riding crop, and she likes to be tied up, and her too-red mouth forms a perfect circle as she sighs and moans, and tosses her head in a performance designed to win any number of academy awards….
And what’s the problem with this? Well… in some ways, nothing. What you’ve found is perfectly good porn. Maybe even great porn.
But in other ways the problem is blindingly obvious. This girl has nothing in common with your high-school crush except for her social security number. Everything you loved about her is gone.
We loved the sweet, shy, freckly girl. We still remember her name, and after all these years she lives close to our heart. Seeing her in lipstick and stiletto heels dancing on a pole is like watching Winnie the Pooh do heroin and then glass someone in a bar fight.
It just isn’t something that I look forward to seeing….
It also has the added benefit of being quite offensive to actual geek pornstars (Sasha Grey, for instance, is a well-known gamer). What do we learn from this? That geek girls are “rabid animals”? Or that they’re lifeless porn stars who rob men of their innocent childhood crushes? All we know is, we would have preferred to run a different story altogether but that, somehow, one simply can’t ignore the silly things some writers say…
Comments, as always, welcome – we’ll be back to regular service tomorrow with some cool stuff from Russian fandom.