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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Political Correctness Is Not Your Friend

Hello hello!

Content warning: I use some pretty harsh language in this one, so if racism is triggering for you, be prepared or maybe skip this one for the sake of your mental health.

So, for a very long time, something has been sitting awry with me. People on my side of the political and rights spectrum--those who accept the reality of and want to fight social, racially based, gender-based, and ability-based inequality--keep using this phrase, "politically correct", as though it's a good thing.

Source. Where would a discussion on language be without this meme?

Why is this happening? 

Well, it started because a bunch of idiot white male comedians (that doesn't have to be a redundancy) started using the idea of being "politically incorrect" as an excuse to be sexist, racist, homophobic, and say whatever else was on their mind. This started happening because they were quoting George Carlin--a guy who fought hard against network censors.

Those of us who remember the 90s remember what political correctness meant--not just the positive benefits of avoiding racial and gendered slurs, but also the far less positive effect of not talking about controversial things. Political correctness does not mean uplifting people, it means avoiding controversy and offending people. It means painting over historically inaccurate racism--like say, the portrayal of Egyptians as white people--by casting lots of white people, so you won't "offend" anyone whose idea of Egyptian gods involves white skin. 

Not sure that's the case? Ask Google. 

po·lit·i·cal·ly cor·rect
pəˌlidək(ə)lē kəˈrekt/
adjective: politically correct; adjective: politically incorrect; adjective: incorrect
  1. exhibiting (or failing to exhibit) political correctness.
    "it is not politically correct to laugh at speech impediments"
    synonyms:unoffensive, nondiscriminatoryunbiasedneutralappropriate,nonpartisan;
    "the true meaning may be clouded by his politically correct language"


Wait, what? 

Political correctness means including black characters but never talking about racism, and having female scientists without touching on sexism. It means painting the world in an even, flat beige--not offending people, but also avoiding the rough edges of stories.

Political correctness is not about fighting discrimination, it's about avoiding offense in a way that does not fight or counteract the ruling power structures. It does not mean that being carelessly offensive, and a sloppy drunk on the stage, makes you some sort of warrior defending free speech--no matter what certain comedians and GamerGate subscribers would have one believe. Shouting slurs for the sake of shock and awe is basically the adult version of a toddler repeating swear words to get a rise out of her mother. It startles grandparents and embarrasses her mother--but is far from an actual conversation about, say, the history of farting in art, which is a valid and interesting topic.

Source. I wasn't just talking out of my ass. 

What does that mean for movies, TV, and books? 

I was talking with a friend on Facebook about old Western movies, and he shared some very interesting observations.

"Honestly there are some rather obvious divides with portrayals of the tribes, even going back to the old Westerns.

Because there's a lot of "ugh kill the white man" but there's also a fair amount of "uh, we screwed them y'know? If I were them I'
d be angry too."

There were even a few films that had Native American heroes fighting white guys trying to screw them more. These were, of course, really rare. But weirdly one of the more notable ones starred Robert Taylor, who was pretty conservative."


"...But it says something that to get positive portrayals of native americans you often do need to check out (some, not all) of the Westerns around. Some of them had problems and were tone deaf in some ways, but they were also often very honest about the validity of the anger of the Native American at their treatment. It's hard to even get an angry Lou Diamond Phillips in Young Guns screaming about his family's murder these days in most of Hollywood. Which tends to be very positive but also very "uh no, let's not talk about this" about such issues."

This really struck a chord with me, and I remembered what it was about "political correctness" that had always bothered me. On one hand, we should not be throwing around slurs and insults in some ham-fisted and thin ploy to "reclaim" them, but on the other hand, we shouldn't force non-white, non-male, non-able characters to be model minorities. First Nations people have a right to be angry, and for us to acknowledge that anger.

That doesn't mean all First Nations people should be angry drunks or 'savage warriors', or that black characters should be former thieves or gangsters. It means that characters should talk about differing experiences, such as being pulled over for speeding while they were driving at the limit, and having the sherriff size them up, worrying that he was going to raid their car, while the dude just gloried in his power over the driver's helplessness.

That also means that the burden is on those of us who create stories, especially writers, to do our research and make an effort to talk about racism honestly. Not just "as white ambassadors", as is so often the case, but as allies and advocates. Perhaps more importantly, it means supporting non-white content creators, and learning when to listen rather than lead.

So what can we do? 

Well, instead of rallying around political correctness, call our enemies by their names: racism, sexism, homophobia, cissexism, and ableism--among other things. We can fight discrimination and racism without forcing people to be comfortable, but also without throwing survivors and vulnerable people under the bus. That's why content warnings are fine. Let people know that Deadpool's movie includes sex and violence, and make it rated R--don't make a watered down, PG-13 version so that 'everyone will be happy'. Let Harley Quinn fall for the Joker and leave him for a healthier relationship, rather than just "almost kissing him" like Anna with Hans in Frozen. 

Political correctness is about comfort, but there's no reason not to have it both ways. Embrace the ugliness of a real discussion about racialized violence or disadvantages felt by First Nations people, but don't refer to the same people as--just typing this makes me cringe in disgust--"drunk Injuns". We can stop permitting people's use of slurs while still demanding complex, nuanced, authentic stories.

Seek out stories by First Nations, Latino/a/x, Desi, black, and Asian writers. When you want to relax, reach for more than another Star Wars movie--throw on that random Korean drama you'd been planning to watch. Read blog posts by writers of colour, and see if the people on a list of creative work catch your eye. Throw money at Kickstarters and IndieGoGo and Patreon projects like this one. Paranormal queer romance? Uh, yeah! Or what about this one? 

Fixing the system isn't quite as hard as we've led ourselves to believe. Be respectful and prepare to be uncomfortable. That's all it's going to take.

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Why I Hate Men

Hello hello!

Before I get down to brass tacks, two notes apply. First, I will be talking about harassment and violence in this post, as well as sexual assault. Second, when I talk about men, I am referring to cis and mostly heterosexual men. My experiences with trans men are more limited, and further, trans men do not have the systemic access to power that their cisgender counterparts do.

If you don't know what "cis" and "trans" mean, go here! Or even here. I will also be talking about patriarchy and male privilege, so before you tell me those things don't exist, please click on the links and do some research, so we can all save some time.

I hate men. 

First of all, #NotAllMen. For one thing, my romantic partner is a man, and some of my closest friends, the people I trust most in the world, are men. But still--in the space of a few years, I've gone from decrying criticisms of patriarchy and saying that patriarchy isn't a real thing, to actively participating in misandry and criticizing popular masculinity without remorse or apology--as much as possible, anyway.

How did that happen? How did a nice, egalitarian woman end up "hating men"? 

Well, feminism has definitely played a role in it, but there's more to it than that. It's given me a lens and a mirror, to reflect on and inspect my own feelings and thoughts. What I slowly discovered was that there were an endless number of habits I'd taken on that were solely for the sake of keeping men comfortable in conversations.

And more, I wasn't the only woman doing this--we were all doing it. From automatically defending men in conversations about rape and abuse, to citing "but I know so many decent guys", to folding into and agreeing with men's opinions whenever they piped up about a topic--even if those opinions disagreed with our own. If a man was upset, I, or someone else, would immediately try to comfort and console him. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you add all of that up, it results in a lot of emotional labour.

It goes deeper, too. Take those tendencies away from the allegedly banal setting of Facebook, and contextualize them within relationships. It's hard not to agree with one's father out of a sense of filial duty, even if one disagrees. Worrying about a partner's needs over one's own, even when they would willingly listen to your objections or requests.

As I started to notice those habits of my own, I noticed them in the women around me, too. People who don't fit in the rigid and limited gender binary, such as my trans friends and friends who don't like gender labels, STILL had many of the same habits of consoling men and being timid about expressing their own opinions.

This sounds like quibbling, says part of my brain. Isn't it making something out of nothing? But that part is still subject to all this socialization. How can we talk about any feminist issue when our complaints are downplayed? It's easier to say a woman is entitled and whiny than it is to admit that there are cultural links between, say, child marriage in the much-criticized Middle East and groupie sex culture from the 1970s.

It sounds minor, but these aren't the only habits I've developed. Every woman I know habitually treats walking alone as a small test of will. We carry our keys and memorize how to punch people and make sure we know where our Swiss Army knives are in our purses and pockets, "just in case". The chance of sexual assault is just treated as a fact of life, something to dread but accept as a risk. Women plan their routes around trying not to be alone, and go to bathrooms as a group, for just this reason. It becomes unconscious--until, at some point, one wonders why they always reach for a knife or a cell phone when walking alone, and considers that maybe, just maybe, that's messed up.

But what about men? 

Men themselves have reacted in a variety of ways to my changing perspective. A lot of my male friends have expressed discomfort or protested my opinions. More disconcertingly, the same friends will use pretty manipulative arguments to counter my own. Invoking the sacred bonds of friendship--all the more ironic when one has barely talked to a person in private, if ever--and using personal attacks were the most common "counter arguments" I saw. Fortunately, a surprising number have supported this misandry and verbal defiance of societal training, for which I am endlessly grateful. Every time a man does not attack me, verbally or physically, I am relieved.

When I was younger, women would bully me. I hated women, and trained myself to think that men were somehow better; more logical, more objective, and kinder. As I've grown up and started expressing uncomfortable opinions, I've found that male socialization is pretty much the same as female socialization, and that men gossip and express indirect aggression and use personal attacks, too. But where women eventually learn that these attacks do more harm than good, men don't--and I think a lot of women let men get away with them because we're trained to comfort them.

Now that I've actually been on the internet for a while, too, I've noticed that men or apparently male commentors tend to be more dogged and persistent in their attacks. After a while, I could tell the gender of "anonymous" commentors pretty easily just from the style of their comments.

But why kill all men? 

First of all, misandry is mostly a performative thing. At no point would I or any other feminist I know of pick up a gun and just start blasting men left and right, gunning them down. Nor would I suggest that feminists, including myself, go around dealing out rape to fix up gay men and make them like women. Nor would I say that women have the right to keep their male partners in line, as god intended, using force if necessary. Nor would I say that men are obligated to perform sexual services at our whim, and to keep the house clean. I wouldn't say that men need to look good at all times or they're slobs, and deserve harassment. I would not turn a blind eye to abuse of a man by his female partner because "that's just their relationship". I would not assume that his job is to be at home, raising the kids, or in the back of the church, remaining obedient and silent. I would not assume that a man is "asking for it" with the way he is dressed. I would not follow around and harass a man on the internet until he wrote many tearful blog posts about his harassment and stalking. I would not kill men because they had rejected me. I would not say men should not be believed when they say they have survived ugly incidents of sexual assault.  I would not say that men are complaining too much when they ask for more speaking parts in movies, or say that men's mere presence is ruining science fiction and video games. I would not support legislation against male reproductive rights, questioning whether men should be forced to care for accidentally sired children and deal with them from the first moment the cells start to divide--claiming, of course, that clusters of cells and children or babies are the same.

But apparently, men will do this to women, and when we complain about their treatment, continue to say that they're being unfairly maligned. And so that is why I "hate men": it is my way of whistling in the dark, of dealing with the statistical fact that about 1 in 4 North American women are sexual assault survivors--including too many of my friends to count. Being a woman means living under siege.

And you know what's worse? Change "men" to "white people" and "women" to "people of colour", or apply the pattern to disabled people, and the propositions still 'work'. Our world is messed up, and we need to change it.

And I do mean "we". For women, that means striking back against our training and tearing down our fears. For men, that means giving women room to speak, and a willingness to be uncomfortable, and even to give up some power. So, men: let women make jokes in which you are not shown in the best light. Strike back at your own sense of entitlement. Listen to black people, and First Nations people, and Asian people, and brown people (in no particular order) when they talk about their experiences. Listen to trans people and nonbinary people. Listen to disabled people.

Listen. Consider. Do not assume you are right.

Just listen.

\Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebook,Tumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!