Busting Out of the Corner

I had planned to make this blog all about conversations with Mac. But something happened last week that’s been gnawing at my brain and I think I have to say it out loud.

See, Toni Weisskopf from Baen wrote a post. I won’t link to it because the comments pool is a cess-pit, but you can see an excerpt here. John Scalzi has some thoughtful things to say and I commend his entire post to you. But in the comments, many folks are insisting that his interpretation is wrong. That really, what the nice lady really meant was that we should just all sit down and talk about it, calmly. Sometimes they say that we should talk “to” each other instead of at each other.

Now, some smart people in Scalzi’s comments section have dealt with the fact that the essay is dog-whistle baffling, so I’ll ignore all of that. Instead, I’m going accept their word that that Ms. Weisskopf’s apologists insist is the real kernel of trust — that really, we should just all calm down and talk about “it”.

When I was in the eighth grade, I joined a role-playing club at my junior high. It was me and ten boys, aged 12-13. I lasted three months. It started with dice down my cleavage. Advanced to grabbing my ass. Then my breasts. At one point, I was barricaded in the corner, three desks around me in a moat, just to stop getting groped and mauled. I tried, I really did, because I just wanted to game, damnit. Eventually though, I quit. The price of admission was too high.  I didn’t game again until college, when, miraculously, everyone just seemed to know not to grab my breasts.

I think about this episode when I read that fandom should just sit down and talk about “it” calmly. “It” is, of course, poorly defined but I think this is what they want to do to me. Not the physical assault, though that’s a terrifyingly probable eventuality, given what I know about the bad old days in SF. But verbal assaults. I get the sense that they want me to convene a citizen’s court or something and explain, calmly and rationally, with evidence that is admissible in a court of law, why I got upset when someone leered at my breasts and made some joke about “huge tracts of land.” They will argue every single incident, line, joke, leer, book, that makes me feel unsafe. They want me to explain. Every single time.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to go to a con where I have explain (calmly, rationally) why micro-aggressions aren’t OK. I’ll wind up back in my corner, barricaded by metaphorical desks. And I really really don’t want to invite my daughter to a fandom where she’s openly “admired” by old dudes who are just sporting an “honest appreciation of the adult female form.” Especially since that line of “adult” is can be kinda blurry at the lower end.

I just want a fandom where, like in college, everyone just knows not to grab a woman’s breasts. Physically or verbally. Where it’s simply understood that perhaps it’s a bad idea to invite a dude to host the Hugos if he’s most famous for misogynistic humor. Where maybe it’s just taken for granted that a book reviewer should be a little sheepish about not having read any female authors for two years straight.

In her rant, much of Ms. Weisskopf’s point seems to be that we, the folks in fandom who don’t want to have our breasts grabbed (or don’t want to deal with racism or homophobia or trans*phobia or.. or… or) are discriminating against people like her, based on their love of Heinlein. And I gotta admit, she’s not 100 percent wrong. If I’m at a con and I see a guy with a button that says “Lazarus Long Fucked Your Mother” and waving a battered copy of Stranger in a Strange Land, I’m going to be wary. I’ll look more closely at his body language before interacting. I’ll refuse to get in an elevator alone with him. I will keep him far away from my daughter. And if he and I do interact, I’m not going to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he makes a comment that might be ambiguous, I’m going to interpret it as offensive. Maybe it’s unfair, but he’s bringing an unpleasant legacy to bear on all our interactions.

(Incidentally, I’m going to have the same attitude towards the fratboy at my local coffeeshop wearing a hat that says “Mike Hunt” and sporting a t-shirt that proclaims “Rugby Players Do it Without Protection.”)

Another point Ms. Weisskopf was making seemed to be, essentially, kids these days don’t know from real SF. Us newfangled so-called fans don’t read the old masters and thus are a bunch of “fuggheads”. (Fugghead, according to my googling, is an insult from back in the bad old days, contemporaneous to the era when the old masters would grope young women at cons.) This is just weird and yeah, I have trouble taking seriously anyone who says that. 

So, if you are at a con and not wearing an offensive button, but roll your eyes when I say that I haven’t read Heinlein since I was 16, or if you sniff in disdain and shift your attention to my husband when I say I don’t really enjoy Asimov, I’m going to walk away from you.  I want a fandom where it’s just understood that there will be different fans with different tastes but we’re all here, now, and we can learn from each other. 

And finally, if you’re a huge Heinlein fan, you love all his works, and you treat me and my friends with respect, you are polite, and you don’t insist that I’m a “fake fan”, then I am happy to hang out with you. And if you happen to say or do something that makes me uncomfortable and I say, “Dude, that made me uncomfortable” or I move away from you, and you then stop doing that, then I’m still happy to have you in the fandom.

That last bit, btw, seems to be a sticking point. Because her whole cry (allegedly) of “can’t we just talk about it?” is clearly a strawman. Because, we’re talking, damnit. Women in fandom, and men in fandom and people of color in fandom, and QUILTBAG folks in fandom, all calmly (and, ok, not so calmly, but with great passion and eloquence) are all saying “Dude, that made me uncomfortable.” That’s talking. The internet is full of it. But that seems to be exactly what she’s railing against.  She seems to regard any conversation that points out poor behavior as gate-keeping, bullying, mob justice, witch hunts, and false accusations. 

Which means, of course, that she doesn’t really just want us to “talk about it.” She wants us to shut the hell up.

This is a new blog and I’m new feminist blogging and to geek feminist blogging. I’ve been sitting on this post for a week, making small excuses to myself about why I haven’t put it up. But I realized that I didn’t put it up because I am a citizen of the internet and thus, as a woman speaking about feminism, I know to expect an attack. But I don’t think I can not speak. Not if I want to call myself a feminist or a fan. I want a fandom where I’m not being told to shut the hell up and go sit in the corner.

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