Chicks, eh?

It’s been a rough few weeks to be a woman, an Australian and a science fiction fan.

I don’t have anything to do with SFWA.  It’s the Science Fiction Writers of America, after all, and even if I was qualified to join (which would involve, for starters, finishing anything), I’m not entirely clear on what the body offers non-American authors.

But it is, effectively, the professional body for an industry I’d like to someday join, so I keep half an eye on its doings.

Suffice to say, the “professional body” has had some problems with, you know, professionalism.  Here’s a nice run-down; no need for me to sum it all up again.

It troubles me that here we have an organisation that is, in practice if not intent, only welcoming to 50% of the population.  (Technically 49%, I believe, but never trust a stat you got from Tumblr.)

The men of Mad Men, season 1.
Some people think that Mad Men is about how we need to get back to a time when workplaces looked like this. Those people are wrong.

I admire John Scalzi a lot, and I respect his efforts to move what looks (from the outside) like a toxic organisation into the twenty-first century.  But the kickback is ugly.  They say, “Don’t read the comments”, but sometimes it helps to know your enemy.  Like here.

Growing up, I didn’t believe in sexism.  When I was 12, my parents went through one of their particularly right-wing periods, and they told me one day that if my brother and I ever went for the same job, I would get it because I’m a girl.

(In reality, my brother and I did once go for the same job, albeit several years apart, and he got it and I didn’t.  But he’s also much smarter than me, and a harder worker.  Maybe because he was told he’d be competing against privileged feminazis, I don’t know.)

Parental eccentricities aside, though, I was lucky.  I came of age in the ’90s.  The most outrageous example of sexism I encountered was in 1999, when a nice lady from Sarina Russo visited my school and told us that girls shouldn’t wear trousers to job interviews, or seem too intelligent, because you didn’t want the interviewer to think you were arrogant.

(I have gotten plenty of jobs after interviewing in trousers.  Not that I wear them much any more, because apparently it’s physically impossible to make pants for my body shape, but if I could find work pants that fit, I would wear them every day.)

Somewhere along the lines, that changed.

I believe it’s fashionable to blame Britney Spears and Lady Gaga for the change, because by all means, let’s blame women for sexism.  A friend of mine attributes the shift to a decade of conservatism under Bush and Howard, the rise of the religious right and the messed up gender dynamics of abstinence-only sex education.

(I think celibacy is a dandy thing if you can do it, but it really helps if you know what you’re abstaining from, and where your boundaries lie.  Apparently these are bad things that will Destroy Children’s Innocence, just like teaching kids the proper names for their genitals.)

I’m not really interested in the whys and wherefores.  (That’s totally a tautology, by the way!)  I’d like for the tide to turn, and then the historians can get on with looking at causes, and I will read the books they publish and feel enlightened.

(Unless they blame Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.)

The business with the SFWA would just be so much background noise if not for what has been going on in Australia this week:

  • The Prime Minister – a lady politician, in the parlance of Resnick and Malzberg – makes reference to the misogyny frequently employed in criticisms of her work.  She is accused of playing the gender card.
  • Approximately 24 hours later, a menu from a Liberal Party fundraising dinner (remember, the Liberals are the conservatives here, because everything is upside down in Australia) is leaked to the press.  It includes “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”.  Please note that in the language of high school students and dickheads, “box” is slang for “vagina”.  The media tells us this is all a lot of fuss over nothing, can’t you take a joke, etc.
  • A couple of days later, a radio presenter asks the PM if her partner is gay.  ‘Cos he’s a hairdresser, right, and ‘cos what type of bloke would be involved with a woman more powerful than he is?  The journo is fired, promises legal action.  This insult also involves a man, so it’s taken a bit more seriously.
  • About a day later, although by this point all the events were kind of merging into one, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, Chief of Army, addresses a problem of institutional misogyny in the army, and makes it clear that this is unacceptable.  He‘s hailed as a feminist hero, and there are calls for him to “run for Prime Minister”, even though that’s not actually how our system works.

And I’m just tired.  Tired because this is how our country treats a woman in power, and how many young women like me are watching this and going, “Wow, actually, you know, I don’t think I will go into politics”?  Once or twice is sexism, but this barrage is just misogyny.  Hatred and fear of women.

And what has Gillard done to deserve it?  Her government’s policies regarding asylum seekers are shameful and inhumane, but the other side’s are worse.  She doesn’t support gay marriage, but neither does the Liberal Party.  Her policies have disadvantaged single mothers in receipt of payments, but so do Tony Abbott’s.

(That both sides are terrible doesn’t make it okay.  I really despise what the Labor Party has become, and I hate that they prioritise money and xenophobia over human rights.  But it’s not as if the Liberal Party and the Murdoch press are approaching this from a position of moral outrage, you know?)

She’s a woman, and she’s in politics, and she is, despite the media’s narrative of failure, quite good at advancing policies, often through compromise and sheer bloody mindedness.  And for some reason, the Australian media just can’t wait to be rid of her.

(Remember how, before the US election, it was a dead certainty that Romney would win and Obama would be history?  That’s the same narrative playing out here, hopefully with the same result.  I for one am growing tired of the assumption that the next election is decided.  I mean, come on, guys, we actually get a say in this!)

I am so tired of feeling like I have to defend my right to be here.

It doesn’t help that I spent much of this last week transcribing the trial of an accused rapist.  There are supposed to be rules about how the defence treats the complainant, but in practice, it’s still okay to make insinuations about her style of dress, her make-up, whether she was wearing a brightly coloured bra, whether her creative pursuits indicate she doesn’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

I’ve been intermittently watching a J-drama called Strawberry Night, about a rape survivor who becomes a police officer.

It’s basically a series about rape culture and institutionalised sexism in Japan. Cheery stuff!

In the TV movie that precedes the actual series, there’s a flashback to the trial of her attacker.  As a teenage witness, she’s standing behind screens so the jury can’t see her.  The defence counsel trots out all the usual, horrible cliches:  you liked it, you led him on, you made it up.

And Reiko loses her temper and steps out from behind the screens, haranguing the lawyer herself: How dare you say that about me, how dare you dishonour the work of the police officers who pursued this case and the officer who died arresting this man?

It’s cathartic, but when I first watched it, I felt like it was too on the nose, too much a wish-fulfilment fantasy.

Then I started transcribing criminal trials, and now I go back and watch that scene again (even though I’m only a few episodes into the series proper) because it’s so satisfying.  It could never happen in real life, but it really is lovely to see it happen on a screen.

I am very, very tired.  And all I’ve done is watch!  But being a witness, as my therapist said last year, is traumatic in its own way.

Yesterday I burrowed in and worked on a project I have going, and then played Mass Effect and read a book for a while.  It was very soothing, except when I remembered that women aren’t welcome in gaming either, and … actually, no, I have no criticism about the book I’m reading at the moment.  Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch, number 3 in the Rivers of London series.  It’s the type of thing my parents called literary fast food, but it’s not so much McDonalds as a burger from that really excellent place that uses the best quality meat, and fresh bread and salads, and makes their own sauces.

It has been a long week.  And coming off the back of a really satisfying con where women’s voices were heard and interesting and funny things were said, it feels a bit like a punch in the face.  (I gave some serious thought to moving to Canada to escape Australia’s politics, but I don’t like the cold, I don’t understand ice hockey, and I can’t eat poutine.)  I realise I’m making a lot of things all about me, but my therapist also said that’s empathy, and I should stop criticising myself for having feelings.

ANYWAY, it’s a nice day, and I’m going to go and have brunch with my excellent friends, and then maybe look at the Mass Effect tag on Tumblr and satisfy myself that my FemShep is better than everyone else’s.  (I presume that is a natural part of the Mass Effect experience?  Seriously, why does the male version of Shephard even exist?  He’s so … well, not my type, suffice to say.)

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

7 thoughts on “Chicks, eh?”

  1. Great post! Just as a small point, I think the fact that I got the job had a lot to do with the fact that I was only 17 when I applied, and they were specifically looking for a junior whom they could pay peanuts.

    1. Ah, but I first applied for that job a few years earlier, when I was 16!

      In fairness, I don’t think I knew I was supposed to answer selection criteria. I didn’t even know what selection criteria were!

      1. Ah, I’d forgotten about that. Ah well. Interestingly enough, I actually job-shared for a while with a girl from school.

  2. I agree with all the sentiments expressed here save one: even without seeing her I can say with certainty that my FemSheps are better than yours. Also the point of mShep is romancing the straight girls/gay dude and having fun with facial hair.

    *rereads post in the hopes of having anything more substantial to add but nope: it’s all overwhelming ire about sexism and Mass Effect feels*

    1. Is there no gay romance option for FemShep? I didn’t see one mentioned on Wikipedia, but it was 2.30 am.

      (I suppose all Sheps are like one’s children, and you’re always going to think yours are best.)

      (BUT MINE IS TOTES THE BEST.)

      1. There is one lesbian LI in Mass Effect 3, and a few bisexual LIs. But the straight female LIs and one gay male LI can ONLY be romanced with an Mshep, which thus gives playing as MShep some appeal (as opposed to only playing fShep, which I might otherwise do)

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