[okay, apparently wordpress published this post... and then unpublished it. I don't even know. If you're getting an update twice, let me know?]
Oh, hi everyone! Enjoying the beginning of March? (SNOW, URGH, PLEASE STOP)
Hey, what day are we? The tenth?
Why does that sound ominous?
OH CLAUDE, THE HUGO NOMINATIONS ARE DUE MARCH 10TH! TODAY! TODAY! TODAY!
Now would be a good time to panic!
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
I meant to put my recommendations up, oh… weeks before? But I’ve been having blog troubles (and real life troubles, which tend to lead to blog troubles), so you’re getting these much later than I would like. But hey, if you’re seeing this post, it means I managed to get my nominations written up before the deadline!
At this point, that’s a pretty major victory for me.
(we’re just going to forget the fact that it’s FOURTEEN HOURS before the deadline, okay? MAJOR VICTORY OVER DEPRESSION = forgetting how close the call was)
So! First things first! If you have no idea what these bloody awards are, let me explain!
The Hugo are arguably the most prestigious speculative fiction awards in the world. Sure, it says “Science Fiction Awards” on the tin, but let’s face it, these awards are as much for Fantasy as they are for SF, or authors like Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin and Catherynne Valente would never be nominated.
(I do think it’s harder for fantasy material to win the Hugos, but that’s another post).
Here’s the crucial bit: the Hugos are a fan award, which means that Random Fans can, in theory, influence the process.
… Hey! Are you a fan? Do you care about awards? Do you complain about nominations for days after they’ve been announced? Consider voting (and nominating for the Hugos)! More voters = better.
Details! Important details! You need to be a member of WorldCon to nominate and vote . And the way you become a member is by paying $60.
No joke, $60 is a pretty hefty sum for the privilege of voting. At least it is for me, your friendly neighborhood
feminist batwoman student blogger. There are, however, some benefits that offset the cost. As a Hugo Voter, you get the voting packet, which contains almost all the novels, short stories, novellas, movies, shows, fanzines etc. nominated for the Hugo awards. It would cost you a shitload more than $60 to get all those books/movies/novellas etc. on your own.
Another fun fact! If you buy a membership for a WorldCon, you get to nominate for the next year’s Hugos. I was a member of last year’s WorldCon (ChiCon), so I get to nominate this year, even though I haven’t bought a membership for 2013 yet.
Reminder to any fellow ChiCon members: if you paid to nominate/vote last year, or if you paid to go to ChiCon, YOU CAN NOMINATE THIS YEAR. You can’t vote without a new membership, but you can nominate. So nominate! In the next fourteen hours! Because you only have until 11:59 EST.
For everyone else – it’s too late to sign up to nominate, but if you are interested in voting this year, there’s more information on how to sign up here.
Okay! Now, without further ado, the fun part: MY super-last-minute nominations for the Hugos.
(note: not all categories are filled out, because I am just one woman, and I have not read/watched everything in the SF/F field. I’ve tried to restrict my recommendations to fields that I actually know something about).
1. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin
At first, I thought I only had one nominee in the novel category because I just hadn’t read enough 2012 books. But looking back over my reading log… nope. I actually have read quite a few 2012 books. I just haven’t been impressed by very many of them (oh, BURN) (sorry, China Mielville and Elizabeth Bear. Better luck next time!)
There was one (okay, two) notable exception.
NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and the sequel, The Shadowed Sun.
Honestly, if NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon doesn’t make it onto the ballot, I will side-eye fandom forever. For my money (if I had any money), it’s not only the best book Jemisin’s ever written, it’s the best novel published in SF/F last year. Jemisin’s worldbuilding and magical systems have never been better. And the plot. GAAAAH, THE PLOT.
A digression here: I think there’s a big difference between a book that should win the Hugo, and a book that CAN win the Hugo. Two years ago, I thought that Feed (Mira Grant) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (NK Jemisin) SHOULD have won the Hugo over Blackout/All Clear. But I didn’t think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms COULD win the Hugo (too much sex! Plus, politics).
Moreover, a someone fairly engaged in social justice, I’m always interested in seeing books nominated that deconstruct, or challenge the more conservative aspects of the SF/F genre. At the same time, I recognize that those books aren’t likely to win, precisely BECAUSE they challenge conservative (and popular) aspects of the genre.
The point of the digression? I think The Killing Moon is one of those rare books that both SHOULD and COULD win the Hugo Award for best novel.
Whenever I think about The Killing Moon, I keep coming back to one word: tight. The plot is tight. The worldbuilding is tight. The characters are tight. The prose is tight. Everything is crafted with such skill that I think the more challenging aspects of the book can just – slide by, unnoticed. Jemisin’s first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a much more obvious confrontation and reconstruction of the epic fantasy genre, which is why I think it was so controversial. Don’t get me wrong – Jemisin’s Dreamblood books are just as engaged in challenging the epic fantasy genre. But it’s – quieter. The progressive politics of The Killing Moon can probably slide by more conservative voters in a way the politics of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms could not.
It’s sneakily political.
The second book in the duology, The Shadowed Sun was also published in 2012 (and I also loved it), but NK Jemisin specifically asked that fans nominate The Killing Moon (so her books aren’t in competition with one another), and I’m following her wishes.
I would also be very interested in seeing Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There and/or Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass on the nomination ballot. I have not read either book, although I enjoy both authors and I’ve heard good things from people I trust about these particular works.
I’d like to see one of them on the ballot because they’re young adult fantasy novels written by women. While young adult novels occasionally make it onto the ballot (and win), it’s my impression that those Chosen Few tend to be by men (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). Again, this is just a theory, but I think there’s a tendency to assume that young adult novels written by men can still be Serious Literature, while young adult novels written by women cannot, even if those women have written Serious Literature in the past.
Thus, I would not be surprised if China Mielville’s foray into YA, Railsea, made it onto the ballot, but I think Valente or Hardinge’s novel would be far more interesting choices.
Best Fan Writer:
Wait, that’s not the category after Best Novel!
…Except for me. Because Best Fan Writer is the category I care about the most. I love cultural criticism. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED… since I started an entire blog for just that purpose.
Best Fan Writer is also a category that I’ve found drearily boring in past years – the same writers are usually nominated year after year after year. And, to the surprise of no one, the nominations tends to be dominated by white men (it’s been six years since the final ballot included more than one woman).
Point being: there are tons of brilliant, diverse, interesting writers talking about SF/F. More of them should be recognized.
1. Foz Meadows.
I want to be Foz Meadows when my blog grows up. Her work on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in SF/F is unparalleled. She’s articulate, passionate, and thorough: her arguments are brilliant, her research is impecable.
Oh, and she’s extraordinarily entertaining.
When someone suggested Mark Oshiro for this category, I went “Oh duh, why didn’t I think of him?”
How do you even describe Mark? He’s been reading – and watching – lots of the most important shows and books in SF/F for his two sites, MarkReads and MarkWatches. His reviews are simultaneously insightful and hilarious. He’s perpetually unprepared for plot twists, and perpetually prepared to fall madly in love with new books.
You have not lived until you’ve read – or watched – a Mark Oshiro review.
I can’t tell you how much I love him. He just brings such JOY to his work (while also calling out problematic shit!)
It’s a rare writer who can critique a genre while simultaneously reminding you of why you’re in love with it.
Examples: Mark Reads Revealing Eden (if you want to see Mark dying over terrible writing and racism), Mark Watches Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan, Mark Watches The Legend of Korra: The Revelation, Mark Reads Wild Magic Chapter 3
Ana Mardoll’s website is filled with smart, thorough deconstructions of important genre books – Twilight, the Narnia Books, Buffy, The Hunger Games etc. Her coverage of disability in SF/F is particularly interesting. Like Mark Oshiro, she’s incredibly thorough with her analysis – her deconstructions often go chapter by chapter, and each post can go well over 2000 words.
I suspect she’s overlooked by the SF/F community because she doesn’t fit our model of a fan writer – she’s a feminist/social justice blogger who writes about genre fiction a lot. And that’s part of the reason I’d like to see her and Mark Oshiro on the ballot – their very presence would expand what we see as “fan writing.”
Plus, I am personally a fan of bloggers like Ana Mardoll, who talk about genre fiction in one post, feminism in the next, and the wives of Henry VIII in the third. Because fuck, that’s the kind of blogger I want to be – so I do love seeing it done well.
Examples: “L” is for Madonna-Whore Complex (deconstructing an article about Twilight that is, if possible, EVEN MORE problematic than Twilight), Twilight: Carried in the Arms of Assholes (fascinating exploration of the appropriation of disability in the Twilight series), Buffy: Freebird (talks the character of Joyce and emotional abuse, and WHOA, I DID NOT SEE IT BEFORE, BUT NOW I DO), The Hunger Games: A Question of Agency
I am a huge fan of Catherynne Valente as a fiction writer – but I am, if possible, an even bigger fan of her as a non-fiction writer. No joke, I’ve re-read her Guest of Honor speech for MythCon… five times?
Valente is particularly important as a commentator on fandom and fan writing itself. Yes, very meta of me! Christopher Priest ranted about the Clarke Awards; Catherynne Valente looked at the fan reaction to his post, and turned it into an entire discussion of sexism in fandom. Her post on the Readercon debacle reminded us that Genevieve Valentine’s experience was actually workplace harassment. And when people attacked Valente for refusing to repudiate Requires Hate, Valente wrote a post that simultaneously explored her own problematic behavior (cultural appropriation), and discussed a wider fandom problem.
Valente does not write often, but when she does, she is on fire.
Other examples: Girl Grit: Feminism, Westerns, Sherlock and Erasure
I almost didn’t put NK Jemisin on my final ballot, because I didn’t want more than two professional authors in the fanwriter category. And then I was all “What are you even doing, Suzanne?” because Jemisin’s voice is so critical to the way I think about the field. She, like Valente, has some of the best commentary on fandom on the interwebs. Her posts on sexism, racism and oppression in fan spaces are brilliant and provocative (example discussing racism in fandom)
Yes, it’s frustrating that Jemisin can simultaneously be both a brilliant fiction writer, and a brilliant fan writer. But she is, so I must recognize her.
Honorable Mentions: I read so many people who deserve a nomination, and sadly, not all of them can end up on my final ballot.
Abigail Nussbaum, for being the essayist and reviewer I wish I were, and for her spectacular, worldview-changing article Women and Horses, which asks: “Why are we, on the one hand, outraged by the deaths of horses on the set of Luck, and on the other, casually accepting of the potential mistreatment of human women on the set of Game of Thrones?” (particularly when those women are underage).
Best Related Work:
Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis. Has lots of very fun, very smart articles, and is responsible for introducing me to Kelly Sue Deconnick, Amanda Connor, Greg Rucka and Marjorie Liu.
Best Graphic Story:
1. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Saga is… strangely unepic, for a story named “Saga” that opens with a tale of star-crossed lovers from warring civilizations. Rather than aiming for obvious epic themes, Vaughn makes the comic an intimate, almost domestic, story about an odd couple escaping from the forces that want them dead… all while trying to take care of their newborn (urgh, diapers!)
The plot is weird and brutal. The worldbuilding is ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment. Staples and Vaughn’s worldbuilding strategy seems to consist of throwing random stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks – but they’re talented enough that it works out beautifully. And the characters are both atypical and compelling.
2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
A ridiculously fun, well-drawn webcomic I stumbled on a few weeks ago. It chronicles how the adventures of Lord Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in Supervillainy, go terribly wrong when he takes on a sidekick: Nimona, a shapechanging teenager.
It’s hilarious and it has lots of fun meta-commentary about superheroes, epic fantasy and villains. I’m in internet love.
Also, Sir Ambrosius Goldenlion (Lord Ballister Blackheart’s greatest enemy) has The Best Hair. Nomination for that alone, quite frankly.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
I’m not going to talk about my reasons for these, because they’re not strikingly different from what I’ve seen on other lists.
1. The Hunger Games
2. The Avengers
3. The Dark Knight Rises
5. The Legend of Korra, Season One.
Okay, about the last: I had some SERIOUS problems with the first season of The Legend of Korra (LOK). In fact, I just finished it last night, and spent a good hour ranting at my boyfriend. But I still think the series had incredible animation, some brilliant plots (alongside less-than-brilliant-ones) and wonderful characters (Tenzin! Chief Bei Fong! Korra! Asami!)
Is it perfect?
But I would like to see it on the ballot.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
I have zero nominations here, because I am so not caught up on current SF/F television. I will say that I would be very happy to see episodes that AREN’T from Doctor Who on this list. Have you considered The Legend of Korra, My Little Pony, Community or Fringe for nominations? You should!
Best Professional Artist:
Listen, I’m not an expert on art, and usually, I wouldn’t care about this category. But because I am a professional misandrist and I hate all men* – and also because very few women are ever nominated in this category – I wanted to find women artists who deserved a nomination.
And yes, this is rather necessary. From my cursory research, I don’t think a single woman has been nominated for this category in the last DECADE.
*(May Not Be A Factual Statement)
1. Julie Dillon (AKA: Why The Hell Hasn’t She Been Nominated)
I regularly use her art as wallpaper for my computer. Can you blame me?
2. Fiona Staples
Stapes is responsible for both the interior illustrations, and the covers for Saga. I don’t usually notice the art in comic books, but Staples’ work is so richly, gloriously bizarre that I can’t NOT notice.
3. Kathleen Jennings
I’m a huge fan of Jennings’ lovely, whimsical book covers – I particularly love how she uses wraparound effects. Her illustrations for Eclipse Online are also wonderful.
4. Amy Reeder
I’ve been a fan of Amy Reeder’s for a very long time – even though I wasn’t aware of it. My wordpress icon? The Batwoman picture?
Yep! Drawn by Amy Reeder.
Although the Batwoman franchise tends to be known for JH Williams’ artwork, some of the most iconic covers come from Reeder’s pen (I am using one of them as my wallpaper right now). And her artwork on the creator-owned Halloween Eve is stunning. I wish I’d known I was a fan of hers before!
5. Ana Juan
Hat Tip to The Book Smugglers for this recommendation – I was trying to find a fifth nominee, to no avail, when their post on Hugo nominations came out. I’ve loved the artwork in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, but I never looked up the artist. Juan’s work is beautiful, whimsical, and a bit off-kilter.
Best Fan Artist
1. Kathleen Jennings, for all her daleks on her blog – and specifically, for drawing Daleks into all of our favorite books and movies.
2. Noelle Stevenson for Nimona (not a professional work – she’s not, as far as I can tell, getting paid). Because her work is fun and beautiful and witty, and reminds me of nothing so much as Kate Beaton
The Mary Sue: A guide to geek girl culture. I love The Mary Sue, and they serve my primary source of SF/F news. The writers are funny and incisive, the coverage is wide-ranging, the politics are feminist and progressive.
Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers: I am counting The Book Smugglers as a fanzine rather than as fan writers, because there are TWO writers on The Book Smugglers. And they deserve a nomination for all the work they do. My god, they publish a post a day, and although Ana and Thea don’t cover speculative fiction exclusively, they do write a whole lot about the genre. Their book reviews are wonderful and incisive, and their genre commentary is always on-point.
Ana and Thea also host an annual blog event called Smugglivus, when they invite authors and bloggers to talk about the year past. It is responsible for introducing me to waaaaaaay too many good books.
Galactic Suburbia (and not just because they put me on their award honors list!)
Galactic Suburbia is a feminist podcast, and thus I am contractually obligated to love them. Fortunately, they make it easy on me, by being perpetually wonderful, and funny, and outraged. Plus, they keep me up to date with all of the Australian Speculative Fiction news (important, since I am a provincial USian).
Last year, I said I was nominating them “because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.”
And they are still awesome, and making me read all the good books. I really hope they make the ballot again this year.
And with that, my friends, my Hugo Nominations are in!
A couple brief announcements, for those of you who haven’t fallen asleep yet!
1. For the purposes of me not getting super-confused ALL THE TIME, I’m now going by the name I use in non-internet life (Suzanne). I get SUPER-CONFUSED whenever anyone uses the name “CD” to refer to me. And although this is a pseudonymous blog, I don’t think using my real name will cause anyone to figure out my ultra-secret identity.
So yes, from now on, I am Suzanne (and my preferred pronoun is “she”).
Of course, you are also welcome to refer to the blog name, full stop (Culturally Disoriented), or to call me The Feminist Batwoman (even though I am NOT the Feminist Batwoman. LET’S BE CLEAR).
2. I have a tumblr! Which has absolutely zero original content. I just reblog a lot of kittens and GIFS. But if you’re interested, I’m over at Feminist Batwoman (although, again, I AM NOT THE FEMINIST BATWOMAN).
3. Content has been slow here! For lots of reasons. Mostly, but not solely medical. I switched antidepressants over winter break, and unfortunately, the new medications caused some pretty brutal side effects. So I am now OFF those antidepressants, which means I am off antidepressants completely, and the transition has been… rough. I also ended up at the ER twice for totally unrelated reasons, because my body hates me right now.
Anyway, content is likely to REMAIN slow for a bit. But I am still here, so bear with me! There’s a GIANT POST OF DOOM coming up. It has lots and lots of statistics! About women in SF/F television! IT IS GIANT! The research is DONE. So it is ALMOST READY.
I had a medical procedure yesterday – nothing serious, but rather painful. And I’ve spent the last 24 hours “enjoying” the cramps and stabbing feelings, and making copious use of naps/painkillers.
I woke up from my nap an hour ago, rather dazed, and checked my inbox.
… And apparently this blog is on the honours for the Galactic Suburbia Award.
The first response from me, upon opening Alex’s email, was: “WHAT JUST HAPPENED IN MY INBOX?”
Then I fell back onto the bed, convinced that the painkillers were giving me hallucinations.
Followed by me listening to the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast in full, and realizing that no – this was definitely not a hallucination.
And then I fell on the bed again.
GUYS. WOMEN. PEOPLE OF ALL GENDERS.
DO YOU KNOW
(as evidenced by my explosion of SQUEE when they were nominated for the Hugos last year)
I’m being calm about this. So: Galactic Suburbia is a feminist speculative fiction podcast. A Hugo-nominated feminist speculative fiction podcast, to be precise!
They have a yearly award for activism and communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2012.
… and I am on the honors list.
Clearly I have not yet gotten to the “acceptance” phase of the process.
I remember hearing Galactic Suburbia calling for nominations for the award in their last episode. And my reaction was something along the lines of: ” I hope that in a couple years, I’m producing commentary good/interesting enough to be considered for the shortlist.”
THIS BLOG IS NOT EVEN ONE YEAR OLD. I’m a college student rambling on the internet when I should be sleeping/doing homework.
Here is the full Award, with the Winner and the Honours list:
Winner: Elizabeth Lhuede for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Lhuede created the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge to respond to the inequity in women’s work being read, reviewed and treated seriously in Australia. In the lead up to 2012, Australia’s National Year of Reading, Lhuede decided to do something to help redress this imbalance and raise awareness of Australian Women’s Writing. Lhuede created the AWW to encourage people to examine their reading habits, and commit to reading and reviewing more books by Australian women throughout 2012.
Kirstyn McDermott, for the creation of the female stick figure in an episode of her podcast, the Writer and the Critic (episode 19). McDermott pointed out that the standard stick figure is not inherently male nor female, and so created a female stick figure – which looks exactly like the male stick figure, but with a female stick figure after it – bringing attention to the idea of the male as default.
Julia Rios for her podcasts and discussions about moving beyond the 101 – feminism 101, sexuality 101 etc.
Genevieve Valentine for starting the discussion about sexual harassment at SF/F conventions. Specifically, for blogging about how the Readercon Board ignored its zero-tolerance harassment policy when she reported being sexually harassed by a Big Name Fan. As Alisa Krasnostein on Galactic Suburbia put it, the conversation led to enormous fallout, but as a result, policies for conventions have changed, and people have started looking at what we want SF/F fandom to be like, in terms of safety
The phenomenon of (and the arguments AGAINST) the Fake Geek Girl - specifically, for the spectacular responses to (mostly) men complaining about Fake Geek Girls. There were too many posts and responses to choose just one for the shortlist, but the discussion around whether women can be “real geeks” has been fascinating conversations on the internet.
Jim Hines (returning nominee!) for his modeling of how SF/F covers portray women in unrealistic ways. Hines brings attention to the issue by trying to replicate the poses himself – and recently used his posing to raise lots and lots of money for the Aicardi syndrome foundation. Humor and fundraising and feminist social issues, all at once!
Anita Sarkeesian for her TEDx talk, where she discusses her experience of the internet harassment she experienced as a result of her kickstarter project Tropes v. Women in Video Games.
The Hawkeye Initiative - a tumblr that brings attention to the way women are portrayed in comic book art. In the Hawkeye Initiative, people redraw comic art that depicts women in horrible ways… with Hawkeye – thus transposing the pose from the female body to the male body, and showing how ridiculous the poses are in the first place.
Seanan McGuire for her blog post Thing I Will Not Do to my Characters, in which she discusses why she will never write her female characters being raped. This was a response to a fan saying that if McGuire doesn’t depict her female characters getting raped, it wouldn’t be realisitc.
Liz Bourke for her Sleeps With Monsters column on Tor.com.
The Girl Who Wrote a Letter to Hasbro about how if she picked a female character in Guess Who, it was really easy for her opponent to win because there were many more male characters than female characters on the board. Led to some really important conversations about gender issues in board games for children.
Geena Davis for her activism and analysis in the field of children’s television, and more specifically for a speech on gender equality in children’s television.
An honorary mention for the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, for her speech against misogyny in parliament this year.
Oh, and, er… me.
The more I listened to Alex, Tansy and Alisa talking about the Award list on the podcast, the more my brain exploded. I’m on an honours list with Seanan McGuire and Jim C. Hines and Genevieve Valentine and Anita Sarkeesian and Liz Bourke and Julia Rios and Elizabeth Lhuede and Kirstyn McDermott.
Like I said earlier, this blog has been running for less than a year. And I can’t… quite express how amazing it is that Galactic Suburbia think my work belongs on a list with these people, who have done so much inspiring, brilliant work on issues of gender in the world of speculative fiction and fandom.
I feel extraordinarily honored to be on this list, with these people (and the Hawkeye Initiative/the Fake Geek Girl Discussion!). Thank you so much to Galactic Suburbia for including me. And thank you to Celia Powell, who I believe nominated me).
(Galactic Suburbia’s full episode is here)
(I will update the blog with the exact descriptions of the winner and honors list just as soon as they are out).
(Also, if you’re not listening to Galactic Suburbia, and you’re interested in gender issues and/or SF/F… you should consider listening. They’re delightful and inspiring and they make my walk to campus much more enjoyable)
“It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.” (Robert Lipsyte, “Boys and Reading: Is there Any Hope?“)
(I hear you, Toph)
I like giving my younger brother (R) books. Correction: I really like giving my younger brother books. And he loves reading, so we’re quite compatible. Well played, universe!
Anyway. The last time I took R on a book-buying expedition, it took us three hours to narrow down the choices. By the end, we were down to two options: Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, which I described as “Jane Austen if all of Jane Austen’s characters were dragons! Tea time meets DRAGONS” and Malinda Lo’s Huntress, which I described as “Adventure! Fairies! Hunting! Lesbian romance! More adventure! HORSES!”
(My eloquence: admire it)
At some point in R’s difficult decision, I swooped in with big-sister wisdom: “You know, I’m worried you won’t enjoy Tooth and Claw as much. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. But it’s not really an adventure story. It’s basically a family story, and about people’s relationships and marriages. Except with dragons.”
My younger brother gave me a Look: “No, but that’s what I like.”
Brother: “Those are my favorite kinds of books! I like reading about families, and about how people relate to each other.”
This would be the moment I massively facepalmed.
I’m a feminist. I think about idiotic gender roles a lot. I try to avoid perpetuating sexism as much as I can. I especially try to avoid perpetuating stupid gender roles around my brother. And I have always believed that there is no such thing as a “girl” book and a “boy” book.
Yet I assumed my brother would like an adventure book more than he would a family-drama book.
Because he’s a thirteen-year-old-boy.
Me, to brother: “… just ignore me, I’m an idiot.”
Conclusion of the story: I ended up buying R. both books, because I am the best sister on the planet
(Yes! yes I am aware of how awesome I am! But more accolades are always welcome!).
He loved Huntress, like I thought he would. But he loved Tooth and Claw even more. He sent me an email from his vacation where he told me it was now “one of his favorite books.” And when I saw him again, he asked me if I could lend him my Jane Austen novels.
Because Tooth and Claw had inspired him to read Jane Austen.
(I really love Jane Austen, okay?)
This post is not about how gender stereotypes are incredibly difficult to unlearn – although it could be, since that is a true and important topic. Gender stereotypes are incredibly difficult to unlearn! Even for feminists! Tell your friends.
It is, as all my favorite posts are, about my brother. My brother read a lot. And as it happens, a fair number of the books he reads either a) are written by women b) have female protagonists, or c) center on “girl” issues like “family” and “relationships.”
This fact makes him the Miracle Boy Foretold By the Prophecy. Because boys can’t read girl books. Didn’t you get the memo?
[Note: In this post, I will use the term "girl" books to designate books that are USUALLY ASSOCIATED with women, either because they were written by women, have female protagonists, or tackle subjects that are coded as feminine (gossip! pink!). I don't mean to imply that there are actual "girl" books and "boy" books. Books are for everyone! I promise! They don't have cooties!]
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young boy who desires to read must be in want of a “boy” book. However little known the feelings or views of such a boy may be on his first entering a bookstore, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding adults that he is carefully kept away from any book with the slightest whiff of the feminine about it.”
Okay, that’s not the first line of Pride and Prejudice, BUT IT COULD BE.
One of the most frustrating myths floating around the world of reading is the “boys aren’t reading because there are too many girly books, and boys can’t read girly books because EVERYONE KNOWS boys can’t read girly books.”
And sadly, this narrative just keeps popping up out of the fertile internet ground every thirty seconds. Like zombies! Or DAISIES. or ZOMBIE DAISIES.
Robert Lipsyte’s self-congratulatory and entirely unimaginative article for The New York Times deplores the explosion of YA aimed towards girls because “while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.” Meanwhile, YA author A. E. Rought called female protagonists a “trope” they hoped the publishing industry would get over. Then Sarah Mesle wrote an article for the LA Review of Books where she expresses concern at the proper lack of “male roles” for boys.
Hell, just yesterday, I was treated to an article that deplored the lack of male protagonists, because the author was sick of girls who only cared about gossip and instead wanted a boy protagonist who just wanted to put gas in his car.
SO MANY ZOMBIE DAISIES.
Okay, first off, I want to make sure our facts are straight. Because it is provably not true that there are no YA books “for boys.” In fact, there are still more male protagonists than female ones in YA. There are just about as many male authors as there are female ones. THESE ARE THE FACTS, PEOPLE (here is one study, among many). And it is depressing as hell that people look at women achieving parity in one field – ONE FIELD – and interpret it as men being blotted out.
By the time I was ten, I had a plan. I would make it a point to give him books with female protagonists. On his birthday, on Christmas, at random occasions – I would give him books with girls. I would give him books about girls. I would give him books by women. I would give him books about “girly” topics like family and gossip and clothes.
Not to mention books with kickass women being kickass!
I wouldn’t force him to read them. And I wouldn’t deprive him of books with male protagonists either. I would simply make sure he had lots of access to “girl” books.
It was a deviously simple plan.
And it worked.
Of the books my brother reads, I’d say somewhere near 50-60% have female protagonists. The first chapter book my brother ever read was Roald Dahl’s Mathilda. His stuffed hedgehog is named “Wizard Howl” after Dianne Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle. He loves Lyra from The Golden Compass. He reads Tamora Pierce and Libba Bray and Meg Cabot and Diane Duane. He will talk for hours about Robin Mckinley and the Blue Sword novels. His stuffed hedgehog is named “Wizard Howl.” Right now, his favorite authors include NK Jemisin, Jo Walton, Octavia Butler and Mira Grant.
Don’t get me wrong, the brother reads a lot of “boy” books too (one of his other favorite authors is China Mielville, and his favorite novel is Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk). But R. has never complained about a book with a female protagonist. To him, they’re just as normal as books with male protagonists. And it would never occur to him not to pick up a book because the author was female.
And now he’s even recommending books by female authors TO ME. It was my brother who first discovered Mira Grant, and who pestered me until I read her (and I never looked back).
THE GREAT FEMINIST EXPERIMENT WORKED!
YES I AM THE EVIL FEMINIST ALL YOUR FRIENDS WARNED YOU ABOUT.
I can’t stress how easy this “experiment” was. I mean, it was easy because I started early, before all the societal sexism could sink in. But it’s not like my brother’s Y chromosome was allergic to “girl” cooties. So whenever I read a Robert Lipsyte, say, spouting the old “ teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters” line, I roll my eyes pretty hard.
You know what? I’ve got a teenage boy in my life, and he reads “girl” stuff just fine. My outlandish theory is that if boys aren’t belittled for reading books about girls, if they’re not taught that girls are lesser, if they’re not teased about cooties, if we don’t teach them to fear the feminine… they’d probably like more “girl” stuff.
Boys don’t read “girl” books because they’re taught, in a thousand small, subtle, insidious ways, that they’re not supposed to.
What if boys weren’t ashamed to read books that were coded “girly” because they didn’t think it was shameful to be a girl? (thanks, Iggy Pop!)
What if we taught them something else?
Think about it.
Quick story to wrap things up!
So, obviously I’m a feminist. And I read lots of feminist fiction. And since my brother steals all my books, he ends up reading quite a bit of feminist fiction himself.
On the other hand, I’ve never told my brother he *should* be a feminist, or that he needs to combat sexism or anything. Because I don’t want to tell him what to think.
One night at dinner a few years ago, my stepbrother started teasing my stepmother about the muscles in her arms. My father said: “Stepbrother! It’s rude to discuss women’s arm muscles.”
And I, the random feminist, replied: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing women’s arm muscles, since there’s nothing wrong with women having arm muscles. But teasing people about their appearance isn’t okay.”
My brother: “Yeah, Dad. Because you know what me and Suzanne are into? FEMINIST SCIENCE FICTION. So if you say sexist stuff, we’re going to get super-mad!”
After I finished dying of laughter, I knew that giving my brother “girl” books to read had been worth it. MY EVIL FEMINIST PLANS HAD ALL COME TO FRUITION.
THE FEMINIST BORG HAD ASSIMILATED HIM.
[No, but in all seriousness, I was super-proud of him. I mean, once I stopped laughing]
Scary Feminist Out!
1. I should note that as I got older and more aware, I also made a conscious effort to steer my brother toward books with protagonists of color and queer protagonists. Which worked out quite well!
2. I want to be clear that just because this “experiment” (such as is) worked for me, it doesn’t mean it would work for everyone. There was a whole lot of privilege and luck that went into it! Like the fact that I started when the brother was super-young. And that he turned out to love reading. And that both he and I had lots of time and opportunities to read, and were both encouraged to do so. This is not supposed to be a how-to for how to get boys to read more. Nor is it meant to be a critique of people who can’t get the boys in their life to read more. If that doesn’t comes across, let me know, and I will fix it!
3. My brother has been fully aware of the “experiment” since he was seven or eight. I promise, I’m not manipulating him behind his back. We’ve had conversations about it, where I ask whether he’s okay if I keep giving him books by women/with female protagonists and he’s like “So… you’re asking if I’m okay with you giving me books? Is this some kind of evil trick?”
4. Hey, notice all the Avatar: The Last Airbender GIFs? The Feminist Philosopher introduced me to the show, and I just finished watching it. IT IS AWESOME, and full of awesome male and female characters AND YOU SHOULD ALL GO WATCH IT. NO, SERIOUSLY, DROP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND GO WATCH THE SHOW.
Thank you, Feminist Philosopher. I will forever blame you when I tear up at GIFs of Zuko and Uncle Iroh hugging.
[Content note for violence, violence against children, disablism]
Last week was not a good time for my happy levels. First, we had the Good Man Project (or,as I like to call it, the No Rapist Left Behind Project) debacle. Then a close friend of mine died unexpectedly. And on Friday, a gunman walked into Sandy Hooks Elementary School and killed twenty kids and seven adults.
I do not want to be writing this post.
Twenty eight people are dead. Twenty kid are dead, kids who are just a bit younger than my younger brother. I do not want to write about mental illness. It feels… wrong to use this as an excuse to talk about the rights of the mentally ill.
I was not planning on writing this post.
But then it started again. People diagnosing Adam Lanza over the internet, assuming he was mentally ill. An acquaintance saying “Evil is a mental illness.” Everyone, from politicians to newscasters to friends, talking about how we have a “mental health access” problem. There are very few spaces on the internet I can go where people aren’t talking about how we have a “mental illness problem” and how Adam Lanza was surely “mentally ill” and if we just had better access to mental health care this wouldn’t happen etc. Even my usually progressive and social-justice aware friends are falling into the pattern.
Now the Sandy Hooks massacre has everything to do with mental illness.
And now, even though I do not want to write this post, I need to write it.
I need to write it even though I know hundreds of other people will say the same things.
I need to write it especially because hundreds of smart bloggers and social justice crusaders and mental health advocates will say the same things. Because our voices are being out-shouted a thousand to one. We need to be heard if we’re even going to be allowed to participate in this farce of a conversation.
The Sandy Hooks massacre was not caused by mental illness. The mentally ill are not some mob of soon-to-be-violent, ticking time bombs. But damn it, if people are going to sit around and stigmatize the mentally ill as an excuse to avoid looking tragedy in the face? Then hell yeah, I’m going to talk about mental illness.
This is not a fun conversation for me to have. Those who follow the blog – or those who know me from Real Life – know I identify as mentally ill. I have a severe anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder. Dealing with mental illness has defined my life for the past four or five years.
You’d think I’d be happy people are talking about mental illness. I, of all people, know how problematic it is for mental illness to be pushed under the rug, to be ignored and stigmatized.
Sadly, the conversation around Sandy Hooks embodies everything that is wrong with how we talk about mental illness:
1. Violence MUST be the product of.
Here’s the thing. As of this point, we don’t even know if Adam Lanza had a mental illness or disability of any kind. But strangely enough, we’re all talking about mental illness issues. It’s like we magically know Adam Lanza’s mental state.
But wait! We do! Because only mentally ill people would kill so many people. Ergo, Adam Lanza must be mentally ill.
Acting like violence is the product of mental illness – and ONLY the product of mental illness – is incredibly problematic. And saying that mental health access will solve gun violence is also incredible problematic. Both imply that mentally ill people are violent, dangerous and uncontrollable.
I’m sure some people are going “but they’re not talking about garden-variety depressives like you! They’re talking about the DANGEROUSLY mentally ill.”
Okay, first: *headdesk* again
Second: Yes, in fact, they’re talking about all of us mentally ill folk. The Rachel Maddow Show, for example, had a segment about how to prevent future shootings. The expert’s main recommendation? Adolescents should have a yearly screening for depression.
I’m sorry, how am I not supposed to interpret that as making a causal connection between depression and violence? Did the expert temporarily forget what he was talking about? Was he about to say “gun control laws” but then got his notes mixed up and started talking depression instead?
Nope. What he was saying was that if we do a better job catching depressives, we’ll have fewer school shootings.
Which implies that depression leads to violence.
[everyone better keep the butter knives away from me, I'M JUST SAYING]
The more people talk about how mental illnesses are linked to this type of violence, the more we assume mental illness means violence. And the more and more mental illness becomes stigmatized.
Ironically, stigmatizing mental illness tends to limit access to mental health care, not expand it. How many people do you honestly think are going to say “whoa, I’ve got a mental disability, I’d better get that checked out” after hearing about how mentally ill people are dangerous child killers? Not a whole lot. More people will avoid getting a diagnosis, aware that their condition could get them labeled as dangerous and violent.
Here’s the crucial thing, the thing people are ignoring completely: Violence isn’t linked to mental illness. This is a provable fact. Mentally ill populations – including populations with mental illnesses that we traditionally associate with violence (like schizophrenia) – are no more violent than everyone else.
Most mentally ill people are not violent. Most violent acts are committed by people who do not have mental illnesses. So the whole “Whoa, someone did something terrible! They must be CRAZY”?
To add insult to injury, people with mental illnesses are more likely than the rest of the population to be victims of violence. 3% of the general population experience violent crimes, while TWENTY FIVE percent of those with mental illnesses do.
Welcome to the upside-down world of public discourse on mental illnesses. In real life, most mentally ill people aren’t violent, and in fact are more likely to experience violence than the general population. In public discourse, however, mental illness is responsible for all the Terrible Violence, and no one is ever interested in talking about how people with mental illnesses are victimized and abused by violent crime [we'll come back to that point later]
2. Dehumanization of People with Mental Illnesses
In this national “conversation” about mental illness, you’ll notice something interesting: no one seems terribly interested in talking with mentally ill people.
The mentally ill are people we talk about, not people we talk to. We aren’t interested in having a conversation with them, despite the fact that they’re the ones most affected by the issue. We love telling horror stories about what happens to mentally ill people who don’t have access to mental health services, but we never ask people with mental illnesses what they think of the issue.
Could you imagine having a conversation about, say, women’s reproductive rights, and not inviting women speakers?
[... oh, wait, this is the United States I'm talking about. OF COURSE I could imagine a conversation about women's reproductive rights with absolutely no women involved. In fact, I've seen it happen! Bad example.]
By excluding people with mental illnesses from the conversation, and privileging the voices of those who see mental illness as something terrifying, we are dehumanizing people with mental illnesses. They are not even worth trying to understand. They’re just a problem to be solved, a fear to be controlled.
The most problematic entry in this category is the now-viral post “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” In the article, the writer discusses her fears that her mentally ill son could turn into an Adam Lanza, due to lack of access to adequate mental health care. .
[Initially, I linked to the original article, but since one of my critiques of "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" is that it violates her son's privacy, I decided that linking it would contribute to the problem. But if you want to read it, google!]
I want to be clear that I have a lot of sympathy for the author. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to protect and care for her children, especially given how much stigma there is around mental illness, and how little support there is for children with mental illnesses. I am not disputing the legitimacy of her grievance, or of her pain. And I, like her, desperately want us to find better solutions for children with mental illnesses.
The article, however, is incredibly problematic. Not just because it appropriates a national tragedy. Not just because it appropriates Nancy Lanza’s experiences, or tries to express a solidarity with her that may not have existed.
But because it appropriates the son’s experiences.
There is a reason this went viral. And the fact that it was written by a “sane” person talking about a mentally ill person, rather than a person with mental illnesses talking about their own experiences? A big part of that reason.
The author – and the commenters – do not acknowledge that the son has his own experiences and ideas. They seem to have no interest in having a discussion with him, or with people like him. Instead, the son is portrayed solely as a problem, a terrifying child that no one can understand, an evil, calculating, rage-filled monster.
Would a post by a person with a mental illness speaking about their own experiences have the same impact?
This would not bother me nearly as much if this wasn’t usually the way it worked in conversations about mental health. When the broader community wants to “learn” about mental health issues, they do not go to people with mental illnesses. They go to their “sane” relatives, or their “sane” allies. In support groups for mental illnesses, for example, the voices of parents are far more privileged than are the voices of their mentally ill children.
I don’t think the perspective of family members or friends of people with mental illnesses are unimportant. But the reality is, those voices usually erase the voices of those with actual mental illnesses. The conversation is dominated by people who are “impacted” by mental illnesses because someone they know suffers from them, or because they have some sort of objective expertise. Meanwhile, those most impacted are shut out of the discussion entirely.
I cannot speak to the experiences of the author’s son. My various disorders are certainly nowhere near what he seems to be manifesting. But I know the frustration of people talking about your problems as if you weren’t in the room. It isn’t just that people don’t acknowledge that the mentally ill should be included in these conversations. It’s that they seem to forget we have a perspective at all.
Which is all kinds of ironic. If people were serious about addressing mental health issues, they would want to talk with people who suffer from mental illnesses. Those are valuable and important perspectives. In fact, they’re the most important and most valid perspectives.
Unfortunately, we’re just problems to be solved.
This, of course, adds to our sense that people with mental illnesses are unable to speak or advocate for themselves. That they have nothing valuable to contribute. That they’re so addled and deranged that they can’t possibly voice their own experiences.
I’m also deeply uncomfortable with the idea that the families or parents of people with mental illnesses are the best advocates for mental health issues.
Often, families will have agendas that are quite problematic, or that are at total odds with what people with mental illnesses actually want. And since the families/parents are the “sane” voices, their experiences are privileged. Moreover, our assumption that parents are best suited to advocate for their kids in these types of situations is based on the premise that parents always act in the best interest of their child. That, sadly, is not always true.
On The Rachel Maddow Show, the expert mentioned that although depressed kids want help, they almost never go to their parents. What he didn’t talk about is the reality that some of those kids won’t talk to their parents because it would not be safe for them to go to their parents. I’ve known people whose parents teased them for their mental illnesses, or who ignored their mental health problems, or who pressured them to go off medication before they were ready, or who denied them access to mental health care, or who told them their mental illnesses were just “character flaws” and they needed to “get over it.”
And unfortunately, sometimes, parents may be the reason why a child develops a mental illness (if, for example, the parent is emotionally or physically abusive).
Even when parents and families do have the best of intentions, they can make horrible, damaging mistakes. Unfortunately, the author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” made one of those in writing her article under her real name. Now her child’s entire mental health history is available on the internet for anyone to read. No matter how horrible her child is, he has the right to privacy, and the right for the media and the internet not to know everything about him without his permission.
[I do think Lisa Long's decision not to use a pseudonym was an honest mistake, since I'm assuming she didn't anticipate her article would go viral. It is still an incredibly damaging mistake for her son and her other children.]
I’m not saying this because I think the author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” article is a bad parent, or is responsible for her child’s mental health issues, or has anything but her child’s best interests in mind. I’m trying to explain how problematic to privilege the voices of parents or relatives in discussions of mentally ill kids.
You cannot have a constructive conversation about mental health care without including – and, yes, privileging – the voices of people with mental illnesses.
And you’re not going to get people with mental illnesses to join the conversation if you dehumanize them, act like they are the problem, or stigmatize them as violent. Which makes me suspect that this “conversation” is not actually about helping people with mental illnesses, but is about giving people an easy target to scapegoat.
3. Mental illness is only important when we think people with mental illness could be violent.
Somewhere around one fourth of all Americans will suffer from mental illnesses at least once in their lives. Most do not have access to adequate mental health resources. Mental illnesses are stigmatized and framed as “character flaws” rather than legitimate illnesses, which makes it even more difficult for people to access help. People with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence. They struggle with getting proper job accommodations and with social stigma. Their voices are ignored and erased from conversations.
Mental illness, and mental health in this country, is an enormous problem.
Yet strangely enough, the only time when anyone seems interested in addressing this problem is when we’re (incorrectly) blaming the mentally ill for violence.
It reminds me of conversations around school bullying, where people argue that we need to curb bullying because the victims might become “troubled” and “violent” later.
Really? That’s why? That’s the problem with bullying?
And the real problem with mental illness is that people might turn violent? Really? Nothing else problematic about mental illness?
First, this whole “more mental health access = less gun violence” plan doesn’t compute. Since most mentally ill people aren’t violent, and most violent people aren’t mentally ill, increasing access to mental health care won’t solve our problem with mass violence.
Second: if you want me to have better mental health care access because you’re afraid I might get violent (as opposed to believing that everyone deserves access to mental health care because good mental health is valuable in-and-of-itself ) then you don’t give much of a shit about me. Or about anyone with mental health issues.
Here’s another way of looking at it: there’s a good chance some of the kids at Sandy Hook will develop mental health problems because of their experiences. Do they deserve mental health care because we want to help them? Or do they need mental health care because they might become “troubled” and “violent”?
Ironically, the people who stigmatize the mentally ill so they can protect the children? May be hurting the very kids they supposedly want to protect.
You know who needs mental health care? Everyone. Low-income families. Communities of color. Rural communities. Non-native English speakers. Children. We need to destigmatize mental illness so that it’s seen as a normal thing people go through, not as a character flaw. But that’s not a conversation anyone seems interested in having.
Instead, we want to look at acts of evil and say: that person is not like me. And if he is not like me, he must be mentally ill.
It’s a distancing technique. And it allows us to abdicate real responsibility for what happened.
I got in an argument on facebook with someone who claimed that “evil” is a mental illness. This attitude, sadly, is a trend. When we don’t understand something – or when we don’t WANT to understand something – we label it as crazy. But in a society that glorifies violence, that allows almost anyone access to assault weapons, a society that celebrates toxic masculinity and aggression, is Sandy Hook really that shocking?
To me, it seems like the logical – if horrifying – conclusion of our gun laws and our obsession with violence and aggression.
Instead of taking on the hard job of actually standing up to the NRA and the politicians and the pro-gun lobby, however, we would rather stigmatize an already marginalized community (and one that had nothing to do with the Sandy Hooks tragedy). After all, it’s so much easier to blame everything on mental illness than to come to a consensus that ASSAULT WEAPONS should not be available to anyone with a photo ID.
We live in a society where we can’t even manage to get stricter gun control after twenty kids are killed. But people with mental illnesses are the dangerous ones.
… yeah, no.
We desperately need to have a conversation about mental illness. We need to talk about access. We need to talk about how we routinely ignore certain segments of the population (especially the poor, the non-white and the non-american) when it comes to access. We need to change the discussion so that mental illness is seen as a legitimate problem, and not as a character flaw. We need to privilege the voices of people with mental illnesses, and acknowledge that they are the experts on their own experiences.
That, sadly, is not the conversation that is happening right now. Because people aren’t that interested in mental illness. They’re interested in easy (and incorrect) answers. They’re interested in blaming easy targets. And they’re interested in distancing themselves from the tragedy.
Like I said at the top of the post, I do not want to have a conversation about mental illness in the wake of the Sandy Hooks tragedy. But if people are going to stigmatize mental illness as a way to avoid looking at reality in the face?
Then yeah, I’m going to talk about it.
* Much thanks to my various friends who let me rant – and ranted with me – yesterday.
** Comments section will be moderated with the Iron Fist of the Feminist Batwoman. Priority for comments section is keeping them a safe space for me and for any other people with mental illnesses who may be reading. Personal attacks or arguments in bad faith would violate that safe space. Remember to use “I” words. And don’t police feelings.
Last year, an acquaintance of mine informed me that although he was pro-choice, he thought other pro-choicers (like me) often steamrolled over the very real tragedy of abortion (the baby-killing) in their eagerness to talk about “abstract right”
And then, dear Reader, I shot him.
… okay, I didn’t shoot him. But I entertained the notion. I also blew up at him, which is something I wasn’t doing that often back in 2011 (blogging has made me such a better, more publicly pissed-off human being).
What I said, as I recall, was “ABSTRACT RIGHTS FOR WHOM, YOU PRIVILEGED DIPSHIT? THE RIGHT TO CONTROL MY BODY IS NOT AN ABSTRACT RIGHT TO ME.”
And then I went on a long rant about how not-abstract the right to have an abortion was.
My acquaintance never responded, which I took as a victory.
I mention this incident not because it was unusual – I’ve gotten into lots of fights about abortion – but because of the argument led me to an epiphany. As I, filled with rage, typed up my response, I finally hit on why, exactly, abortion was such an important issue to me.
So why? Why do I care so much?
Because abortion isn’t just about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her pregnancy. It also symbolizes a woman’s right to control her own body FULL STOP. A woman has a right to abortion because her body is her own – not the government’s, not her partners, not her relatives, not the doctors.
There are very few things less “abstract’ than our ability to control our own bodies.
And, crucially, the right to bodily autonomy is not just about abortion. It’s not even just about contraception, or reproductive rights, or consent.
Not surprisingly, I have a story to explain my point.
So, random fact: I actually first started thinking about broader issues of bodily autonomy when I realized that November was pancreatic cancer month. Yes, I know, that seems random. But there is a reason to the random, I promise.
Pancreatic cancer is arguably the deadliest of all cancers in terms of survival rate. The one-year survival rate for all stages is 25%. The five-year survival is 5%. The median survival rate for metastasized or locally advanced cases (which account for 80% of all diagnoses) is 6 to 10 months. Pancreatic cancer kills almost as many people as breast and prostate cancer, yet receives less than 1% of the funds for cancer research – possibly because very few people survive the cancer long enough to become advocates.
A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is basically a death sentence.
When my maternal grandmother was in her early forties, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She turned out to be somewhat of a miracle case, surviving almost ten years before the disease metastasized to her liver and killed her.
Here’s where this story gets back to bodily autonomy. My grandmother never knew she was a miracle case because she never knew she had cancer at all.
Wait! You say. She was diagnosed! How could she not know? Did the doctor give her the wrong diagnosis by accident, or something?
Oh, ha-ha, I wish. In fact, my grandmother’s husband (my… step-grandfather?) and her (male) doctor thought that my grandmother would be devastated if she found out she had cancer.
So they decided not to tell her. At all.
She was horribly sick for ten years without ever knowing why. And she died without ever knowing why.
I realize there may be people reading this who will think my grandmother’s doctor and husband did her a favor by sparing her pain and grief. My father is one of those people – when we talked about my maternal grandmother recently, he said he “could not find fault” in her husband’s decision to lie.
My grandmother was so afraid of death, after all. It was better for her not to know.
Welcome to paternalism.
You know what? Maybe my grandmother was happier overall than she would have been knowing her real diagnosis. But that was not her husband OR her doctor’s choice to make. It was not their body. It was not their life. It was not their choice.
It was her body, her life, her right to know.
But these men thought they knew what my grandmother needed better than she did. They thought they had the right – nay, the obligation – to control her life.
Let’s think about the very real consequences of their decision, shall we?
My grandmother could not make choices about her own medical care, since she did not know what her actual medical conditions were. Certain procedures must have been unavailable to her, since they would have forced doctors to reveal the secret (there aren’t a lot of reasons to get chemotherapy except cancer).
My grandmother could not make informed choices about how to live her life, since she did not know crucial facts ABOUT her life. She did not know she was living with a deadly illness. She did not know that her prognosis was severe; that doctors thought she would survive a few months or a year, at most. Maybe my grandmother would have made different choices. Maybe there were things she would have wanted to do. But she did not have the information necessary to make those choices. Tragically, she could not even decide how to prepare (or not prepare) her youngest daughter, who was a very young child when my grandmother was diagnosed.
And, although she did not know it, the lie made my grandmother utterly dependent on her husband and her doctor. They were now in complete control of her medical future. They could have chosen not to treat her. They could have chosen to use highly experimental drugs. Her husband could have withheld medication. He could have used his knowledge to manipulate her into making big financial decisions that she would not have made knowing her prognosis.
As far as I know – and I do not know a lot – the doctors and her husband did not abuse their power. I mean, except for the part where they lied to my grandmother for TEN YEARS. Other than that.
But they could have. From the time her doctor and her husband decided to lie to her, to the time she died, my grandmother did not have bodily autonomy. She could not control her own life, or her own body. Other people had that control.
My grandmother died of pancreatic and liver cancer two days before I was born.
Paternalism did not kill my grandmother. Cancer did. But paternalism took away my grandmother’s ability to make informed choices about her body and her life.
And this isn’t just a random horror story. It’s the dominant narrative of our past. Women and other minorities have not traditionally been allowed to control their own bodies. Their male relatives did. Their doctors did. The government did. Their owners did, in many cases. The US government sterilized mentally ill women and native women. Hospitals forced – and continue to force – women to undergo dangerous medical procedures without informing them, or seeking their consent. Hell, for over 30o years, black peoples in the United States were considered property.
It’s not just a historical horror story either. In Kansas, a law passed this year that allows doctors to lie to women about their pregnancies if they believe that the information might lead the woman to choose abortion.
Doctors can lie to their patients to stop them from getting abortions.
Bodily autonomy is not just about abortion. But there’s a reason people get so mad when our right to choose is threatened. We know that abortion is just the tip of the iceberg. We know bodily autonomy is not some kind of contingent thing where you can say “you control your body up to the uterus, but after that, it’s in the government hands.” We know what happened to us when our bodies were not under our control. And we’re not interested in going back.
I’m not particularly angry at my step-grandfather, or my grandmother’s doctors. I think what they did was disgusting and unethical, yes. And I’m rather grateful that I don’t have to interact with my step-grandfather. But I’m not that angry at them. I’m angry at the system that made it okay and normal for them to lie to my grandmother. I’m angry at a system that told them it was okay for them to take control of this woman’s body and life. And I’m angry that that system still exists. That we’re still fighting for the basic right to bodily autonomy today. In 2012.
People are allowed to control their own bodies. Women very often are not.
Rebecca West once said: Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. It’s a surprisingly radical notion.
Any comments that justify the decision to hide my grandmother’s illness from her will be mocked or banned. So will any that engage in victim-blaming by arguing that my grandmother “must” have figured it out. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. That’s not the point. Of any comments that talk about how difficult it must have been for her husband to hide the truth from her will? Yeah, it was probably hard. You know what would have made it easier? TELLING HER THE TRUTH.
Comment with care
Psst! You! Readers! is CD around?
No? Oh, FANTASTIC. I’m just going to let myself in, then! You guys don’t mind if I take over blogging duties for the day, right? Right!
Yes, yes, it’s me. The Feminist Batwoman. Champion of Intersectional Feminism and Enemy of Restrictive Gender Roles!
I know. Very exciting. I keep meaning to drop in and blog, but C.D. is kinda paranoid, and she doesn’t want me around. Something about the police putting her in jail for
being harboring a vigilante blah blah blah.
Also, she’s convinced that people think SHE’S the Feminist Batwoman. Which is obviously not true. CD and I have actually never met! How can we be the same person if we’ve never met!
Anyway. I think the problem with C.D. is that she just doesn’t have trust. I mean, I love that woman, but… seriously. You guys aren’t going to turn me in, right? I’m the Feminist Batwoman! I fight for Intersectional Feminism and Gender Equality Throughout the Shadows of the Interwebs.
AND I have a fabulous mask. Why would anyone turn me in?
See what I mean about the fabulous mask?
So now that we’ve established that you aren’t going to turn me in, let’s turn back to CD.
Have you guys noticed that she’s a bit… off, recently? She keeps writing about all this UBER-depressing stuff, and going on long rants and freakouts. Now, as the Feminist Batwoman, I fully support long rants and freakouts, but…
I’m worried that CD has lost her joy.
I mean – did you SEE what happened two weeks ago? The American Election? SHE SHOULD BE OVER THE MOON ABOUT THAT! She should be blogging kitten GIFs and celebratory confetti and explosions ALL THE TIME.
The activist joy should be EVERYWHERE!
So, you know. I thought I would cheer up CD (and bring on the return of the Kitten GIFS!) by reminding her of all of our Great Victories this month.
Maybe if CD remembers all the happy things that happened, she’ll be happier! Can’t hurt, right?
Let’s start at the top:
#1: Mitt Romney, oppressive douchebag and plutocrat supreme… Defeated!
I will not have to spend the next four years tracking down and defeating his Legion of Anti-Roe judges! I will not have to fight his attempts to turn over Obamacare and get us in more wars and cut the budget for food stamps and medicare and medicaid and social security and education. And hey, we won’t have to deal with his racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and classicism and general… barfiness.
My costume is already SUFFICIENTLY covered in the Barf of Oppression just from fighting to defeat Mitt Romney’s campaign. I’ve had to go to the dry cleaners ten times this election cycle. They’re giving me REALLY weird looks.
Imagine what I would look like if he were president. *shudder*
2. President Obama (a somewhat too-conservative-for-my-taste but generally pretty-decent- president) won. And President Obama is someone I can work with. He’s the man who brought us Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Obamacare and who ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and who passed the mini-dream act. He saved the economy and made insurance companies cover contraceptives and signed the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay law. He passed a bill that made it a hate-crime to commit an assault on someone based on their sexual orientation; he extended employment benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and he became the FIRST SITTING US PRESIDENT to come out in favor of marriage equality. Oh, and he extended health insurance to four million uninsured kids (why, in the name of the Holy Batmobile, do we have FOUR MILLION uninsured kids in the richest country in the world? QUESTIONS).
Like I said. I can work with this guy.
All good news so far, right? All news that should make CD happy, right?
It gets better.
3. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, people voted to legalize same-sex marriage. YES THEY DID. We broke the 32-state losing streak (including a loss in my – I MEAN CD’s – home state of Wisconsin) with a three state victory! We finally got a popular victory for same-sex marriage!
(although I object to people’s fundamental human rights being put on the ballot, but if they’re going to be put on the ballot, this is the desired outcome)
Moreover, Minnesota had an amendment on the ballot that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. You know what happened? Voters said NO. AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance member, The Queer Question (also known as Renee Montoya), who led the charge in the fight for same-sex marriage. The Question knows how to stop the Forces of Oppression, y’all.
Has CD cheered up by now? If she hasn’t, I have even MORE good news for her (because this election is just the gift that keeps on giving).
4. The next American congress will have the highest number of female senators in recorded history: twenty
(which: it is super-gross that 20 is a HIGH number of women in the senate. But we’re getting better).
And let’s talk about those women! Because it’s not just that we’ve got more women senators and representatives – it’s that the ones we’ve got are incredible.
Elizabeth Warren won a senate seat in Massachusetts. I’m quite fond of that woman. She scares Wall Street half-to-death, and is already fighting the Forces of Economic Oppression. Go Warren!
Tammy Baldwin WON A SENATE SEAT in Wisconsin! Tammy Baldwin is now Wisconsin’s first female senator – and the first openly gay member of the senate in US HISTORY.
I’m a huge fan of Tammy Baldwin’s. She’s been
my CD’s representative for years (since I’m CD is from Madison). Her work in the House was incredible; and I fully expect great things in the Senate.
CD, of course, was terrified that Tammy Baldwin – an openly gay woman from the hellmouth of hippie-liberalville (Madison) would have no chance of being elected in Wisconsin. And I do like proving CD wrong.
Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin (aka: “Mr. Legitimate Rape”). She won the Mississippi Senate seat – one that almost NO ONE thought a democrat could hang onto – by fourteen points. Because she is an incredible campaigner and she knew how to let Todd Akin hang himself by his own rope.
And to cap off our list of amazing women senators, Mazie Hirono won Hawaii’s open senate seat, thus making history as the USA’S first Asian American female senator. Whoo!
My good friend and fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero, the Anti-Racist Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) (who happens to be one of the few Asian members of the DC Universe) is REALLY excited about Mazi Hirono’s election.
Cassandra is also rather pissed that it took until 2012 for an Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate.
The fun doesn’t even stop with senators! The great state of Illinois elected Tammy Duckworth to the House of Representatives. Duckworth served in the Iraq war, where she lost both legs. She is the first female war veteran with disabilities elected to the US House of Representatives.
You will not be surprised to know that Disability Rights Oracle (Barbara Gordon) was thoroughly pleased by Duckworth’s election!
And the great State of Hawaii elected Tulsi Gabbard, another female war veteran – AND the first Hindu member of the US House of Representatives.
But the best part of this election – and yes, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet – wasn’t just that a League of Awesome Women were elected.
5. It was that the League of Awesome Women (in conjunction with the Anti-Oppression Superheroes) defeated the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists.
Senate candidate Richard “Rape Babies are a Gift From God” Mourdock? DEFEATED.
Senate candidate Todd “If It’s A Legitimate Rape, the Female Body has ways to Shut That Whole Thing Down” Akin? DEFEATED!
House candidate John “The Rape thing” Koster? DEFEATED.
House candidate Joe “‘there is no such exception as life of the mother” Walsh? DEFEATED. By the way, Mr. Walsh, if pregnancy can’t actually kill women, what happened to Savita Halappanavar?
Vice Presidential Candidate Paul “Rape is just another method of conception” Ryan? DEFEATED.
All congratulations are due to The Consent Culture Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) who took point in the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance’s battle with the Evil League of Rape Apologists. I think we can agree she did a pretty fabulous job, no?
So, overall, I think the forces of Anti-Oppression did pretty well this election cycle, no?
We defeated the forces of oppression and darkness and plutocracy! We brought down the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists! We elected a swath of Awesome Women!
Its definitely party time at the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance Headquarters, if you know what I mean!
(No, I don’t mean an orgy. Get your minds out of the gutter).
Party! Party! Party!
And I totally think CD should join us in this great party of activist joy, don’t you? Now that she’s undoubtedly been cheered up by all our good news!
I mean, come on. We won! Time to stop moping and stop ranting and smell the Victory Flowers, no? Or else CD is going to go all Batman, and be angsty 99% of the time, and no one wants that, do they?
It’s time to bring the joy to CD, ANTI-OPPRESSION PARTY STYLE!
I’m just going to check CD’s agenda book and see when she’s got a free slot for the party, shall I? Then we can all persuade her to go.
Huh. Can’t find CD.’s agenda, but… there’s this blog post draft on CD’s computer. I’ll just go ahead and read it (Hey, I’M not Consent Culture Batgirl. Privacy is not my only priority. Also, CD and I are
the same person friends!)
Well, this blog post is disturbing.
And by disturbing, I mean:
Montana voters passed a state ballot measure that puts in place a parental notification law: any person under the age of 16 who seeks an abortion needs to notify their parents. A PARENTAL NOTIFICATION LAW?
Well, HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
OH GREAT, and IT KEEPS GOING.
After helping to pass Texas’ abortion sonogram law, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick is trying to cut off Rural Texans’ access to abortion. Because there’s nothing Dan Patrick cares about more than controlling women’s personal medical decisions!
The head of the Maine Republican party thinks there was voter fraud, because “dozens’ of black people showed up to vote, and no one in rural Maine knows any black people! Mitt Romney says Obama won because he gave “gifts” to women, young people, Latinos etc. Paul Ryan blames the urban vote (*cough* people of color *cough*).
Okay, I know I was complaining that CD seems really pissed off these days? BUT THIS? THIS IS PISSING ME OFF ALL OVER AGAIN.
Scott Walker is trying to end same-day registration in Wisconsin, because the best way to follow up an election full of voter suppression is MORE voter suppression.
In Kansas, the city of Selina passed a proposition that overturns the city’s protections from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The City of Hutchinson also overturned their city’s discrimination protections.
Proposition 35 passed in California. It raises the penalty for those convicted of sex trafficking to as high as life in prison, which SOUNDS great, until you figure out that survivor groups were against the proposition. Why? Because the bill conflates sex trafficking and sex work, which means that both sex workers and sex trafficking survivors could be penalized, put in jail, put on sex offender registries etc. The bill will probably have a much worse effect on sex workers and victims than it will on actual bad guys. Melissa Gira Grant wrote a smarter and longer analysis of the problems with Proposition 35.
… And Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action practices in state government hiring, education and contracting. But that’s okay, because apparently they weren’t using affirmative action anyway! And it’s not like there’s institutional racism or sexism in the USA, because, as everyone knows, we live in a post-racist and sexist society.
… yeah, okay. Maybe there’s a reason CD is still angry. Hell, I’M ANGRY.
You know what? Victory party canceled. We can have a victory party later. I can use the streamers to tie up some misogynists. Kyriarchy-Blasting Wonder Woman can use the helium from the balloons to power her invisible jet. We can throw the confetti in the eyes of the racists.
CD’s right. Our activism isn’t over, not even after this victory. People are still being oppressive asshats. A woman’s ability to choose is still under fire. People of color are still being targetted. Homophobia is still ruining lives. Misogyny is still rampant.
Time to get back to work.
ANTI-OPPRESSION SUPERHERO ALLIANCE, ASSEMBLE!
Oh, uh – before I leave to go fight oppression, could you guys do me a favor?
Could you NOT tell CD that I was here?
Like, keep it all hush-hush?
Also, you really don’t have to mention that I changed my mind and actually, we can’t celebrate yet because there are so many other things wrong in the world we need to deal with.
She doesn’t need to know she was right. That woman is not a gracious winner.
Just keep it… quiet, is my point. Okay? Okay!
Great! I’ll be back soon, faithful readers! In the meantime, I will go forth into the Shadowy Corners of the Interwebs and Fight Against Restrictive Gender Roles and All the Other Forces of Oppression!
Until next time.
- Your Friendly Interweb Feminist Batwoman.
CD HERE. WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH MY BLOG, FEMINIST BATWOMAN?
… oh, fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have
had that half-glass of beer and put on the mask left my computer unattended. The Feminist Batwoman is devious. Super-devious. And in no way related to me. Ignore the shot of my shoulder in the last picture. That’s not my shoulder. I’m not the Feminist Batwoman. Yeah. I had nothing to do with this.
I need to change my passwords. AGAIN.
Anyway. Sorry about that, everyone. I’ll try to
stay away from the mask keep a better eye on my computer in the future.
Although I do agree with the Feminist Batwoman’s point. We did win a big victory this November, and we should celebrate. But we should remember that there’s still a war on. It’s not time to lay down our weapons yet.
As Consent Culture Batgirl always says:
- I’m not ready for this to be the end of the fight. There’s so much ground to cover still. More misogyny and racism and homophobia and ableism and transphobia and oppression to uncover and stop. A new, better society to build.
- What are you still fighting for?
- ETA 2: Okay, FINE, ONE CELEBRATORY KITTEN GIF. But only because of the marriage victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington and Minnesota. And because of Tammy Duckworth and Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren and Maizie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard.
Question: Let’s say your wife doesn’t want to get in the shower. So you grab her, pick her up, and shove her into the shower while she screams and yells for you to let go. For good measure, you pin her to the wall while she keeps screaming.
Is that abuse?
Not on Grey’s Anatomy, it isn’t!
[no, but seriously, it is abuse]
[It's also domestic violence]
I, uh – I can’t really believe I’m writing this post. Because, I mean, Grey’s Anatomy has done a lot of stupid stuff over the years but – surely – SURELY – they didn’t just portray domestic violence in a positive light? Surely that didn’t happen. Surely I was imagining it.
… No, wait, I didn’t. It actually happened.
The fuck is wrong with you, Grey’s Anatomy?
And yes, I know, I just admitted to watching Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, I kind of gave up on it after the Ghost Sex season. Yes, I rewatched the first two seasons during my finals – but only because it reminded me that my life, though stressful, could be a lot worse.
It could be scripted by Shonda Rhimes.
But then this fall, my Romantic Interest (hereafter known as the Feminist Philosopher) got me to watch Grey’s Anatomy with him on a regular basis. And I will admit I’ve been enjoying it. Mostly in a “let’s point out how terrible this plot is” way. Or a “oh, that dialogue was just terrible” way. And sometimes in a “Cristina Yang is my spiritual guru and I will do whatever she tells me to do” way.
Intermingled with my love for Cristina Yang and my enjoyment of the terrible dialogue, however, is a slow-simmering outrage over the show’s treatment of the newly-disabled characters.
Quick recap: at the end of last season, a bunch of the doctors were in an airplane crash. Two of the principal characters – Lexie and Mark – died. Arizona Robbins’ leg was crushed, and later amputated against her wishes. Cristina Yang was diagnosed with reactive psychosis.
The way Grey’s Anatomy is dealing with Cristina and Arizona is killing me. KILLING me. It’s like they’ve got a bingo card of how NOT to write about disability, and they’re trying to check off EVERY SINGLE BOX.
For a while, I held it in. It was just a slow-simmering outrage, and a couple of rants. But Episode 3 (“Love the One You’re With”) officially pushed me over the top. The scene where Callie abuses her wife, Arizona and NO ONE CALLED IT OUT?
And it wasn’t a gross moment? It was a big “Oh, finally, Arizona will realize that her disability makes Callie unhappy too!” moment.
Yeah, that was the end of Ms. Nice Feminist.
NO MORE MS. NICE FEMINIST.
CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE AND YOU MADE IT SEEM JUSTIFIED.
FUCK YOU GREY’S ANATOMY.
Okay. I’m calm. I’m totally calm. I can write this in a calm and mature manner.
Before we get to the problem of Arizona Robbins (who, let me remind you, was ASSAULTED BY HER WIFE), let’s start with the Case of My Spiritual Guru, Cristina Yang.
After the rescuers finally show up and save everyone, Cristina lapses into a catatonic state, punctuated with brief moments of rage and violence. Her doctors diagnose her with reactive psychosis.
Now, in a perfect world, Cristina’s friends and family would be like “Oh, yeah, she’s got a mental illness because she was in a plane crash and survived for a week with no food/water/medical help and she was keeping all these other people alive. Not super surprising. Let’s let her get the care she needs!
… And if you think that’s how things actually went down, I have a piece of the True Cross I’d like to sell you.
Here’s what actually happened. Cristina Yang is diagnosed with reactive psychosis, and then…
Cue scene where Owen (Cristina’s estranged husband) yells to the psych ward chief that he won’t let them take Cristina to the psyche ward. Cue scene where Owen – the chief of surgery – essentially prevents his wife from getting adequate medical care because he doesn’t want her to go to the psych ward. Cue scene where Meredith, Cristina’s best friend, grabs her by the shoulders and tells her to “snap out of it” because if Cristina doesn’t “snap out of it,” she’ll be put in the psych ward and “pumped full of anti-psychotics.’ Which is apparently the worst thing ever, since anti-psychotics will strip Cristina’s identity away (#NotActuallyHowAntiPsychoticsWorkMeredith) (#SeriouslyYouWentThroughMedSchoolAndYouDontKnowThis?)
Meredith and Owen fight tooth and claw to keep Cristina from going to the psych ward and getting psych treatment. Do you think they would fight to keep her out of the hospital if she’d gotten pneumonia? Would they be screaming at her and telling her if she didn’t “snap out of it,” she’d be pumped full of antibiotics and her personality would be totally changed?
Of course not.
This is gross on so many levels, I can’t even. As usual, mental illnesses are treated as if they’re The Worst Thing Ever, as opposed to, you know, just another set of illnesses. And Grey’s Anatomy acts like Cristina getting psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever.
Psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever, y’all! THE WORST THING EVER.
And going to the psych ward is the other Worst Thing Ever.
Meredith and Owen’s behavior reinforces the stigmatization of mental illness. PSYCHOSIS, OOOGA BOOOGA. Whereas Owen and Meredith would recognize that pneumonia is an illness, that catching pneumonia is not a person’s fault, and that a person with pneumonia needs TREATMENT, they act like mental illnesses are a character flaw. Psychosis is a stigma, a brand to be avoided at any cost. Cristina can just “snap out of it.” And if she goes to the psych ward and received proper, adequate treatment for her “condition,” she’ll officially be a “psychotic person” and that would be the Worst Thing Ever. Because mental illnesses are the worst thing ever blah blah blah.
Someone shoot me.
Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. Like all other illnesses, they require treatment. And honestly, to deprive Cristina of treatment tailored to her illness because you don’t want her to go to the “psych ward” (OOOGA BOOOGA) and you don’t want her to take “anti-psychotics” is tantamount to medical abuse.
Grey’s Anatomy always makes a huge deal about ultra-religious parents who refuse to allow their child to get proper medical care. Don’t they realize they’re doing the same thing with Cristina?
(Well, of course not, because Mental Illnesses are different, and Cristina can’t be Psychotic GRAB THE FAINTING COUCH).
As a person with several mental illnesses, let me be the first to say “FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.” You know what? I’ve been pretty close to catatonic in the super-severe phases of my depressions. I’ve never been put on anti-psychotics, but they were on the table, and they still are (some of them can be very helpful to managing depression. Who knew?). I’ve never been to a psych ward, but if things got bad enough, I would hope that the psych ward stigma wouldn’t be enough to keep me away.
The attitude the show – and Owen and Meredith – display towards mental illnesses is precisely the reason it took me twenty five minutes to type up the previous paragraph: because it is so fucking scary to come out as a person with mental illnesses. The attitude of “mental illnesses are the Worst Things Ever” and “mental illnesses mean you’re Crazy” do hurt people with actual mental illnesses. That attitude is part of the reason I was pushed by certain members of my family to keep my depression a secret and to get off anti-depressants as fast as possible (as opposed to when I was ready).
So yeah, FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.Th
The show’s treatment of Cristina gets even worse in the scene where Owen (her estranged husband) takes her home and bathes her.
Ick. Ick, ick, ick, ick, ick.
Because Cristina and Owen were more or less estranged before the plane crash. So Cristina’s estranged husband managing her entire life, bathing her, controlling her, while Cristina herself is still catatonic and unable to give consent? Cristina’s estranged husband discussing, in vivid detail, how the rest of Cristina’s life will go? Cristina’s estranged husband deciding what kind of medical treatment she’ll get (or won’t get)?
Cristina and Owen are no longer in a relationship where there’s some kind of consent implied for these big, major medical decisions. She never gave consent for him to take care of her, and she can’t do it now, since she can’t talk. So yeah, in this context, it is really gross that Owen basically takes control of her entire life.
The worst part is that the bathing scene is meant to be romantic and loving. Oooh, look at Owen, standing by his catatonic woman, taking care of her, isn’t he the Bestest?
No… he’s not. Bodily autonomy and consent is a thing. You don’t lose it when you go through mental or physical illnesses.
And also, using a person’s illness and/or disability to prove how generous and self-sacrificing YOU are is suuuuuper-gross. Don’t do it. Ever.
Which, fittingly, brings me to the case of Arizona Robbins.
Reminder of Arizona’s condition: her leg was amputated shortly after she was rescued from the plane crash. Although Arizona did not want her leg amputated, at some point she started dying and was unable to give consent for medical procedures, so her wife (and doctor) Callie gave consent to an amputation.
(Question one: why is Callie, Arizona’s WIFE, her doctor? Oh, never mind, this is Grey’s Anatomy where that sort of thing is TOTALLY okay)
Post-amputation, Arizona is super-pissed at Callie for deciding to go ahead with the surgery without Arizona’s condition. She’s also unhappy and depressed and generally in a state of rage over losing her leg.
Now, I will gladly admit that Arizona has not been a particularly pleasant person in the wake of the crash and losing her leg. I would also like to point out that there’s no “right” way to react to severe trauma, and Arizona is not a bad person for not being all smiles and rainbows post-amputation. You cannot control the way you feel.
Hell, I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with Callie being upset and angry and sad at Arizona. You can’t control the way you feel; Callie is not a bad person for having normal human emotions.
But if you can’t control the way you feel, you can, however, control how you ACT on your feelings.
Cue the end of Episode 3. Callie comes home to find Arizona has left her wheelchair. Arizona apparently tried to go to the bathroom without help, but collapsed and urinated on herself.
Callie orders Arizona to take a shower. Arizona refuses.
Okay, yes, Arizona is being a bit silly. Then again, Arizona has just discovered, for what must be the 90th time, that she can’t do even the simplest tasks on her own anymore. And she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s going to go through a long, hard process of rehabilitation and relearning her body. That’s not something “easy” to go through. It’s not something most people can just “get over.”
But you know what? Even if Arizona’s behavior had been completely unjustified, there is still NO EXCUSE for what Callie did next.
Arizona refuses to take the shower.
Callie picks her up and shoves her into the shower. Arizona screams for Callie to let her go, and get out; Callie slams Arizona against the shower wall and holds her there while Arizona keeps screaming.
DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE.
And yes, Callie is super-emotional and crying. And yes, Callie yells “There’s nowhere for me to go; this is my life now too!”
BUT IT’S STILL DOMESTIC ABUSE.
Least you think I’m exaggerating about the violence of the scene, see for yourself. And this, by the way, is AFTER the grabbing and shoving:
Sadly, because I am female and I grew up in the USA, I only believed my own conclusions about the Super-Gross-Abuse-Scene-Of-Doom AFTER a person of the male gender independently came to the same conclusion. Fortunately, I happened to have a person of the male gender sitting right next to me when the Super-Gross scene happened:
The Feminist Philosopher paused the video and turned to me.
Feminist Philosopher: Well. That just happened.”
Me: “Uh, yeah. You saw the same thing I did.”
Feminist Philosopher: “Callie assaulting Arizona? Yup. Suuuper gross.
So yeah, it’s not just Team Culturally Disoriented Seeing Things over here. Hell, I don’t understand why anyone – anyone – would look at this scene and not go “Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is going on here.”
Hey, I’ll tell you what the hell is going on:
CALLIE ABUSED ARIZONA.
And no one has called it. Not on the show, not – as far as I can tell – in the world of the internet.
So I’m calling it now: Callie Torres physically abused Arizona Robbins. It happened. It is domestic violence.
This is not a “normal” couples argument. This is not okay. This is abuse.
Okay, I can hear the critics now. What does this scene – gross as it was – have to do with disability? Callie’s treatment of Arizona is abuse regardless of Arizona’s condition, right?
If we unpack the scene a bit more, however, it’s pretty clear that Callie’s actions are intimately connected to the show’s attitude towards disability.
There’s a reason why this scene isn’t played as domestic violence. There’s a reason it’s framed to make Callie seem “justified.”
Indeed, from the first episode of the new season, Arizona’s disability has been framed in terms of its effect on Callie’s life. It’s about Callie’s feelings. Callie’s sadness. Callie’s struggles. Callie’s torment. Callie’s guilt. Hell, we don’t even SEE Arizona in the first episode – until we discover she’s lost her leg.
And we don’t see her much in the next few episodes – except when she’s interacting with Callie.
Then we get this beautifully revolting scene in Episode 2, where Callie tells Owen that “the person in that bed” isn’t Arizona, but just a shell of a person with all of Arizona removed. Callie says she thinks that if Arizona loses her leg, Callie will never get Arizona back again.
And Owen then says he doesn’t think he’ll ever get Cristina – his still-catatonic wife – back.
Let’s just back up and look at how Owen and Callie have taken their significant others’ Huge Illnesses and made it All About Them.
We need to save Arizona’s leg so Callie gets her back. We need to make Cristina un-psychotic so Owen gets her back.
Wow, I never realized that when people suffer through traumatic illnesses and injuries, their experiences don’t matter at all! It’s All About The People Around Them!
I’m learning so many new things from this show.
Look, being the partner/friend/significant other/family of a disabled or chronically ill person is not easy. And those people deserve support and help and sympathy. My problem isn’t that Grey’s Anatomy showcases Owen and Callie’s emotional meltdowns. My problem is that the show does it AT THE EXPENSE of Arizona and Cristina.
Despite the fact that Arizona and Cristina are the ones actually dealing with trauma and disabilities, their stories are secondary. Their emotions are far less important than those of Callie and Owen’s. The show centers on Callie and Owen’s sadness at their wives’ illnesses/disability, and on how generous Callie/Owen are to stick with them.
Arizona is relegated to the role of a symbol. She’s not important for herself, but for what she represents – Callie’s tragedy, Callie’s sacrifice, Callie’s generosity, Callie’s emotional struggles.
Hell, Arizona isn’t even able to define herself anymore – it’s Callie who decides that Arizona is “not her wife” anymore, but just a person with all the Arizona scraped out. How Arizona feels, we don’t know.
The show’s writers took Arizona’s voice away and made her silent in her own tragedy.
And what does Callie yell to her wife as she’s pushing her into the shower? Why does she think it’s okay for her to abuse Arizona?
“This is my life now too!”
This is my life now too.
It’s not Arizona’s life anymore. It’s Callie’s. By virtue of Arizona’s disability, she has become less of a person. She’s been relegated to the symbolic.
You know what? This is not Callie’s life. It’s not. Arizona’s life is Arizona’s life. Arizona’s body is her body.
If Callie can’t handle Arizona’s behavior, she can try to have an honest conversation with her. She can go to therapy. You know what? If it’s too much for Callie to deal with, CALLIE CAN LEAVE ARIZONA. She can divorce her. Callie has somewhere else to go. She has a choice. She’s choosing to stay with Arizona.
Arizona, on the other hand, really does have nowhere else to go. She can’t just “leave’ her body when she gets sick of it. This is her reality. This is her life. This is her body.
It’s not Callie’s.
I don’t mean to diminish Callie’s very real pain, or Arizona’s very real vitriol over the past few episodes. But I’m sick of illness and disability being portrayed as “harder” on the family/friends/whatever than on the person experiencing them. I’m sick of shows using disability as a way to show OTHER characters’ emotional struggles and generosity.
I’m sick of narratives that tell us that people with disabilities are less-than-human, that they’re just a broken version of a more perfect person. I’m sick of narratives where Meredith get to say that treatment for a mental illness will strip your identity away. Where Callie gets to say that her wife’s accident has made her “not-Arizona.”
Hell, I’m not even sure why I’m so surprised by this. Grey’s Anatomy has always treated illness and disability as symbols. In the show, the disabled body is nothing more than a shiny toy for doctors to have fun with. People with disabilities are only important insofar as they are symbols. They’re not people.
People with disabilities are not broken. We are not symbols. We are people.
Screw you, Grey’s Anatomy.
The worst part of the abuse – and yes, we have only just now gotten to the worst part – is that its for Arizona’s own good. Supposedly.
In Callie’s Super-Important Surgical Case (right before the Shower Scene), her underage patient wants to run off and complete a sailing competition even though it’ll mean losing her leg. Callie tells the patient’s parents that they need to stop her. They need to be her parents. They need to be “the bad guy” so they can save their daughter.
And, of course, because this is Grey’s Anatomy and Grey’s Anatomy has the subtlety of a GIANT SLEDGEHAMMER, Callie’s case is a metaphor for her personal life, and how she needs to be the “bad guy” with Arizona.
In this little equation, Arizona has been transformed into a child. A child. And Callie is her PARENT.
The whole “people with disabilities are just like children” meme has been well-overplayed. Don’t think I didn’t notice the infantilization of Arizona. Don’t think I didn’t notice that she peed on herself (childhood!) and had to be cleaned by her wife/parent (infantilizing!). Don’t think I didn’t notice that you did exactly the same thing with Cristina in the scene where she’s being bathed by Owen (infantalizing!)
Disabled people are not children. We’re not, thank you very much.
And Arizona is not a child. Arizona is a grown-ass woman. Losing her leg does not mean she lost her right to control her own life. Her body is hers. Her life is hers. You do not get to choose what she does with them, even if you think she’s hurting herself.
You cannot control adults’ lives for their own good. You cannot shove your wife into a shower for her own good (you can’t do that to your kid either, actually, because that too is abuse). You cannot take your estranged wife back to your house without her permission and give her a bath (yes, I’m back to Cristina). You cannot choose your estranged wife’s psychological treatment.
That is abuse.
Look, I get it. You see sick people, hurt people, you want to help them. They say no. You say “it’s for your own good.”
But that’s NOT OKAY. You cannot help people without their consent. You cannot force people to do things “for their own good.”
Not after they’re 18 anyway.
Look, this isn’t some kind of fringe issue. People with disabilities are up to four times more likely than abled people to be abused by partners or caretakers. Four times. And part of the reason they’re more likely to be abused – and less likely to seek help (or to get it when they go to the authorities) – is because of stupid narratives like these.
Narratives that emphasize the pain and the generosity of the caregivers and the partners at the expense of the actual people with disabilities. Narratives that portray people with disabilities as children. Narratives that portray abuse as something done for the person’s own good.
Who would ever believe that a woman so generous and selfless that she would stay married to a cripple would commit an act of domestic violence? It wasn’t abuse! It was for Arizona’s own good.
Fuck you very much, Grey’s Anatomy.
Callie abused Arizona.
You showed it as something good and romantic and cathartic.
Fuck you, Grey’s Anatomy.
Arizona and Cristina are not symbols. They’re not tragic parts of other peoples’ lives. They’re not children. They’re not broken. They’re people with real pain and real lives and real stories. So please start treating them that way.
And please don’t give me any Arizona/Callie scenes for another few weeks. I honestly can’t look at Callie without wanting to call the Seattle cops. SHE ABUSED HER WIFE. Send her to therapy.
As a final note: CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE.
Just say that over and over to yourself until it sinks in.
*In order to thank the Feminist Philosopher, who re-introduced me to Grey’s Anatomy AND who was kind enough to let me rant at him for a REALLY long time without ever telling me that I was exaggerating or that I should calm down… I will finish this blog by saying: FUCK YOU, DAVID BROOKS.
**ALSO, if you are in the Montreal area, you should go see the play Inherit the Wind, which is going up at McGill Player’s Theater, November 14-17 & 21-24, 8:00 PM. GO SEE IT. I saw it last night, and my reaction was something like this:
It was pretty damn near perfection. And I’m not just saying that because I know a lot of the people in it and I baked cookies for their bake sale (if I hated it, I would just NOT TALK ABOUT IT on the blog).
GO SEE IT.
oh, here’s a review.
Before I begin this blog post, I need a moment for prayer.
Please, please, Cylon Jesus, please let this be the last blog post I ever publish about Mitt Romney. Please let this be the last blog post I ever have to write about Mitt Romney, Cylon Jesus. In other words, please make sure Mitt Romney loses the American election and I never ever hear about him again.
Please Cylon Jesus.
It’s my birthday soon, Cylon Jesus. Very soon. You wanna give me a present?
No more Mitt Romney.
That’s all I want, Cylon Jesus.
Well, that and a pony.
(take care of the Romney problem first, Cylon Jesus, okay, though? #IHavePriorities)
Okay, back to Mitt Romney.
A couple weeks ago, I got in a facebook argument on a friend’s wall. My Awesome Friend had posted an article explaining that Mitt Romney’s 47% speech included a racist dog-whistle (or ninety).
Another facebook dweller (henceforth known as of Acquaintance) was not convinced that Romney’s remarks had elements of racism. We had a nice productive facebook argument about that, and at some point, Acquaintance concedes that yes, Romney’s remarks were probably racist.
So far so good, right?
BUT THEN, Acquaintance goes (and I’m grossly paraphrasing) “Well, okay, maybe it’s racist, but we don’t need to call out the racism. Critiques of Romney’s remarks based on classism are sufficient.”
To be fair to Acquaintance, he’s not the only person guilty of such argumentative doltishness. I’m sure you’ve heard variations of this theme before.
It’s the “yes, okay, Republicans are attacking gay rights, and that’s terrifically sad, but we can’t talk about that, because it’s divisive! And we don’t want to alienate any of our supporters.” argument. Or the argument of: “well, yes, all those anti-welfare advertisements Romney’s campaign is running are highly racist. BUT it only helps Romney if we accuse him of being racist, because then they’ll say we’re playing the race card.”
Or: “Sure, Republicans are talking about taking away a woman’s right to birth control/abortion/her own body. But that’s controversial, so we can’t talk about it.”
So. With a little less than a week left before the election, let’s clear things up.
You know why you should call Romney out for being a racist? Or a sexist? or a homophobe? Or a terribly oppressive douchecanoe?
Because when Romney’s a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe, he’s attacking PEOPLE. PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE.
POC and women and queer peoples are PEOPLE. They’re PEOPLE. And when they’re getting thrown under the motherfucking bus by a bunch of asswipe politicians, you STAND UP.
For crying out loud.
When you say racism isn’t important enough to call out, you’re tacitly saying that POC aren’t important enough to defend.
When you refuse to call out the war on women’s bodily autonomy, you’re basically saying that women aren’t important enough to stand up for.
When you let Karl Rove and his minions play the “Ooooh, scary gay people” game without saying anything back, you’re throwing queer people overboard and letting them swim with the sharks by themselves.
I’m white. I have white privilege. I don’t honestly know what it’s like to be a POC and to hear Romney’s racist dog-whistles. And I don’t want to appropriate that conversation. You should read these awesome links instead (they’re a great starting point for understanding the DEGREE to which racist rhetoric has invaded Romney’s speech)
I am a woman, however, and I do know what it’s like to hear politicians talking about taking away my birth control; my right to an abortion. I do know what it’s like to hear men – men who control our country’s policy – say things like “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” I know what it’s like hearing that a pregnancy resulting from rape is a “gift from God.”
This is my body they’re talking about. My right to control my own body.
Fuck, it’s terrifying.
I can’t imagine it’s any easier to be a POC listening to Romney’s racist rhetoric.
My point, here it is: This isn’t dinner theater. These are people’s LIVES.
Racism, misogyny, homophobia (to name the big three) kill people. Yes, in the United States. Yes, in Canada. And when they don’t kill you, they still force you to live a life full of micro-aggressions and oppression.
Or they just make you live a life of misery and terror. [ask me about living a life full of misery and terror! I am a woman living in rape culture. I'm a fucking expert!]
When politicians use racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or any kind of oppression in order to gain political points, they’re basically saying that oppressed peoples matter so little that politicians can use their lives as political footballs.
Women’s rights to their bodies are not a political football. The right of POC to be treated with respect and without bigotry is not a political football.
It’s not a game.
And when we don’t call them out, we’re tacitly agreeing. it’s okay if women/POC/queers/minorities are batted around like catnip in front of a kitten! It just doesn’t matter that much.
No, it matters.
And it’s not about Romney. I get that people are like “well, he’s a gross asshole in nearly every way, so we really don’t need to list every horrible thing he does.” I get people who say “well, no matter what we say, he’s never going to stop being an oppressive douchecanoe.”
(which: Fair. I don’t think there’s much that’ll make Romney stop being an oppressive douchecanoe)
But it’s not about Romney. It’s about the people he’s attacking in his attempt to win the Presidency.
You don’t call Romney out because you think Romney will magically learn not to be an oppressive douchecanoe. You call him out because you think the rights of oppressed minorities are worth standing up for. You call him out because you don’t believe in leaving people out in the shark-infested water, getting attacked by a bunch of cynical politicians.
You call him out because it matters to me, damn it, as one of those people being attacked, to hear others supporting my rights. To know that I’m not alone. That someone will fight alongside me.
It’s not about Romney.
And it’s not just about douchebags like Romney either. I think most people who read this blog are progressive or liberal (or else you’d already be sending me hate mail), and it’s pretty easy for progressive, liberal people to go “Oh, yeah, Romney, that racist asshat, I can call him out!”
It’s a lot harder when it’s your heroes. It’s a lot harder when it’s your allies.
I’m thinking of Bill Maher, misogynist supreme, and comedic hero of much of the left. We can’t call him out! He’s on our side!
(no, you really can call him out. And you should)
I’m thinking of Hugo Schwyer, feminist hero. A man who has admitted to having raped a woman and tried to kill his girlfriend. A man who has harassed and dismissed women of color in the feminist movement. A man that many Big Name Feminist still defend. We can’t call him out! He’s a male feminist! Also, calling him out is divisive to the feminist community!
(no, you really can call him out. Also, you should SHUN HIM).
I’m thinking of feminists who ignore women of color, or who act like WOC’s concerns are something to take care of “later.” Or who are blatantly racist and who STILL don’t get called out, because the feminist movement is often REALLY SHITTY about the rights and issues of anyone who isn’t a middle-class western cisgendered straight white woman.
Yes, I love feminism. Yes, it’s one of the great axis around which my life turns.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t call feminist out when they exclude women of color, or when they’re racist. No, I should.
Hell, I’m even thinking of myself. I’m a huge bundle of privilege, and I’m still very much in the “screwing up” stage of anti-oppression work. And you know what? If I say oppressive stuff, or write oppressive stuff, or blog oppressive stuff, or if I’m being problematic?
I would take it as a MASSIVE favor if you would call me out. Sure, I’ll feel defensive for 30 seconds, and then I’ll get my head on straight. Other peoples’ right not to be oppressed is more important than my ability to feel comfortable in my discourse.
Now, look. There are good and valid reasons not to call people out.
First, calling people out takes a fuckmetric ton of energy (Fuckmetric tons: scientific measurement right there). It’s not easy. And a lot of times, it’s not safe either.
There are many circumstances where I don’t feel safe calling people out. One easy example: I don’t feel safe yelling at street harassers.
What if they turned on me? What if they hurt me?
There are also circumstances where I’m just too tired to call people out, especially when it’s about something that personally affects me (sexism, stigmatization of mental health issues etc). It’s emotionally exhausting, having to argue for your right to exist, and to be treated with respect.
Sometimes, I just can’t handle it.
So I pick my battles.
The other major reason not to call people out is when you might be appropriating someone else’s fight or adding to oppression. This especially applies to allies.
Be aware of the fact that in many spaces, your voice may be more privileged just by dint of the body you inhabit. Men have more privileged voices than women. White people have more privileged voices than people of color. You want to be sure that your calling people out isn’t, by dint of your privilege, excluding or disempowering the people you want to support.
(random example of me screwing this one up: this weekend, I got in another facebook argument, this time about the importance of Andrew Ti. I waded in to support my friend, who is a woman of color (I’m white). The white dude in the argument dismissed my friend as childish and hysterical. On the other hand, he listened to me and CHANGED HIS MIND. Least you ask, my friend and I were making almost exactly THE SAME ARGUMENT. Word for fucking word. So yeah, my attempt to support a friend turned into another instance of “let’s disempower the woman of color.” Yeah, I screwed that one up)
[also, if you're not already reading Yo is This Racist? You should be.]
So yes, absolutely, there are good reasons not to call people out. But if you’re safe and secure and you know you’re not disempowering other people (except the racists – I fully believe in disempowering racists)?
And you choose not to do it, because of you just can’t be bothered?
Then dude, you suck.
Now, I’m not saying your suckiness is a permanent state. Let us note that I’ve been pretty damn terrible in my life at calling people out.
Yes, I suck!
But I’m working on it.
Call people out, everyone. NOT JUST MITT ROMNEY EITHER.
(Also, Cylon Jesus, if it isn’t too much to ask, I’d love to have my birthday night free of homework and stuff. No? Not possible? Okay, thanks for trying).
(hey, do you guys like the new blog design? I’m obsessed. Now with 100% more rose-red pink! And more feminist Batwoman!)
Did you fear I would never address the Obama/Romney election on this blog? Fear no more! The day of reckoning is here, and my ranting powers are at their full potential.
After all, it’s election time in the USA! Will we manage to survive yet another racist-ass, anti-woman, queerphobic disaster of a Republican Candidate (Mitt Romney) and elect a moderately conservative dude instead (Barack Obama)? Only time will tell!
Is Mitt Romney as horrible a slimeball as he appears? … YES!
Now, I know you don’t need me to tell you that Romney is a slimeball. And I know you don’t need me to tell you that he’s a racist, queerphobic, classist misogynist with big entitlement issues. Those things are pretty damn obvious.
But there IS something I have to tell you. Hell, I put my entire blog schedule on hold for this huge insight into the character of Mitt Romney. It’s GAME CHANGING.
You should probably hold onto something.
Or sit down.
Is a runaway Jane Austen character.
Oh yeah, I just brought in Jane Austen.
I… I think I just lost half my readership there. SORRY GUYS! I LOVE YOU! I PROMISE I’LL STOP TALKING ABOUT REGENCY LITERATURE IN MY NEXT POST. I’LL STOP MAKING VERY BIZARRE SPECULATIONS! COME BAAAAACK.
Then again, the three literature/poli-sci geeks in the room just started fist-pumping. “Austen – Romney FTW!”
And as I am a literature/poli-sci geek… well.
So. Random fact: I am totally obsessed with Jane Austen. I became an English literature student because of Jane Austen. I’ve read every novel Jane Austen ever published. I’ve read Jane Austen’s juvenilia. I’ve taken classes on Jane Austen. I’ve planned book-length projects on Jane Austen. I think about Jane Austen a LOT.
And a couple weeks ago, I was walking to the library, thinking about Jane Austen (as you do), and how interesting it is that her marriage plot, which appears so stuffy to modern readers, was actually radical and revolutionary, because she gave her female characters the right to say “No” to marriage proposals. And isn’t it interesting how this “no” always shocked male suitors? The entire thing really exposes the way the clueless male suitors felt so damn entitled to getting women… wait… you know who else seems to have that massive sense of entitlement to getting people’s support?
And I was all “OH MY GOD, I’VE GOT IT.”
Mitt Romney is the clueless suitor.
I immediately raced to twitter. “Romney,” I said. “Is like every boorish male suitor in Austen’s novels – Mr. Elton, Mr. Collins, Henry Crawford. The suitor asks the protagonist to marry him, and is shocked she could say “no, because, after all, they have MONEY. Just like Mitt Romney runs for president, and is shocked that people won’t vote for him, because after all, he has MONEY.”
I spent the rest of the day tweeting about this. People needed to know. They needed to know that Mitt Romney is a runaway Jane Austen character.
Now, I imagine you aren’t convinced by my brilliant thesis yet. Neither was I, at first. But the evidence kept piling up.
Let’s have a checklist!
1. The Longing Gaze
Jane Austen’s clueless suitors are known for gazing longingly at their object of their affection. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s longing stares at Elizabeth Bennet are so epic, they’ve given rise to the term “Firthing” (longing, silent stares) in honor of Colin Firth, the actor who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.
And Mr. Mittens Romney, Clueless Presidential Suitor?
ALSO known for his (vaguely disturbing) longing stares!
2. Sense of Entitlement
Austen’s Clueless Suitors are always shocked that the objects of their affection actually expect them to behave WELL. Notable in the Mr. Collins proposal scene, where Mr. Collins is all “what are you talking about with your “no thank you”? I have everything a woman needs!” Or, in Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford’s total confusion at the fact that Fanny doesn’t love him: “Sure, I behaved like a total manipulative douchebag for the past two hundred pages. But I’m hot! And thus entitled to your affections!”
Or the Mr. Darcy proposal scene, where Mr. Darcy finds it incredible that Elizabeth Bennet expects him not to act like an asshole. Yo, I’m already asking you to marry me, Lady. And now you want me to act like a decent human being?
Next thing you know, these pesky women will expect you to treat them like human beings!
The suitors, in other words, are very entitled.
And Mitt Romney has a very similar sense of douchebag entitlement.
“What, you mean campaigns involve work? And scrutiny? and QUESTIONS? Yo, I’m being nice enough to run, let’s not raise expectations too high, okay?”
The poor man gets increasingly annoyed every time voters or the media dare to presume to ask basic questions, like “where are your tax returns?” or “can we get a press conference over here?” or “would you mind clarifying your position, please?” He seems to expect that we should just go along with his whole “don’t look at my record! Don’t look at my business record! Just look at the parts I want you to look at, and only as long as I want you to look at them!” schtick.
Note Ann Romney’s infamous quote on the subject of Mitt Romney’s invisible tax returns:
“We’ve given you people all you need to know!”
3. Hating Poor People
Jane Austen’s clueless suitors tend to also be giant snobs who highly dislike anyone in a lower class.
Example: Mr. Darcy, to Elizabeth Bennet, the woman he’s proposing marriage to: “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
“There are 47 percent [of Americans] who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. (…) My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Or, translated into Austen speech:
Mr. Romney, courting the American vote: “”Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of 47% of the country? To congratulate myself on the entitlement of Americans, whose conditions in life are so decidedly beneath my own?”
SEE THE SIMILARITIES?
4. Acting like people are lucky to be able to vote for/marry them?
Going along with the “sense of entitlement” thing: Austenian suitors usually act like the women they propose to are LUCKY to have someone so handsome/rich/competent asking for their hand in marriage.
Mr. Collins to Elizabeth Bennet, asking her to marry him: “It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you.”
And Mr. Mitt Romney? Does he ever show any of this “you people are so lucky I want to be President” attitude?
Surely not! That would be too ridiculous! And entitled and…
Ann Romney: “It is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”
(uh, HUGE CHECK) 3
5. Last, but not least: Super Awkward!
Indeed, Jane Austen’s clueless suitors tend to be catastrophically awkward and stiff (which makes them all the more hilarious).
Mr. Romney, what sayeth you to this? Are you stiff and awkward?
Well, he loves laughter. So much.
And he’s so genuine.
… Your honor, I rest my case.
… I’m telling you. It shocked me too, but it is TRUE. Mitt Romney is a clueless suitor. He has escaped from one of Austen’s novels to our world, and is now plotting his evil evil ways.
As Dani Alexis (@danialexis) reminded me on twitter: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Presidency.”
Romney: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My desire to be President will not be repressed.” (credit for quote: @danialexis)
HIS DESIRE TO BE PRESIDENT WILL NOT BE REPRESSED!
… quite a scary concept, actually.
You know what else? If Mitt Romney is actually a Jane Austen character (which I believe I’ve thoroughly proved by this point), it also explains why Mitt Romney has so many problems with women!
Yes, indeed! For, as Mr. Collins tells us: “As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”
You see, women don’t have a problem with Mitt Romney because he’s from a party of giant misogynists who want to take us back to the stone ages. No! We’re just PRETENDING we’ve not going to vote for him, in order to increase his love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.
I JUST EXPLAINED THE GENDER GAP EVERYONE!
[She really loves him, she's just increasing his suspense]
So basically, we need Mittens Romney to ask women to vote for him a few more times, and we’ll totally change our minds!
… yeah, no.
I mean, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone else’s political decisions, but… let’s just say I don’t think Mr. Romney’s “courtship” of my vote is going to end any better for him than Mr. Collins’ courtship of Lizzie Bennet’s hand.
Hey, Mittens, sorry, but I’m sending my absentee ballot off to the states just as soon as I find an American witness to… witness me voting.
And the name I checked?
But hey, good luck with your attempt to court all us elegant females!
And all you elegant females? And males? Be forewarned! Mitt Romney’s desire to be President will not be suppressed! He’s going to be courting you pretty hard!
And as a runaway Jane Austen character, I think there’s a good chance he’ll start organizing formal balls.
Mitt Romney Style!
** Before you ask, yes, I am aware that Mitt Romney is PROBABLY not a Jane Austen character. It’s a joke! I know it’s a joke! Moving on.
Interesting thing you might not know about me: I often think in colors. In my head, for example, Jane Austen’s Emma is saffron-red (while Pride and Prejudice is yolk-yellow). English literature as a subject is a foggy blue. My first year of middle school in France evokes orange tones. My Future Wife makes me think of purples and browns.
And sexual harassment is bright lime-green and noodle-yellow.
Okay, I get that was a bit of a random tangent. Everyone’s very confused. Everyone’s all “Uh, C.D., why is sexual harassment lime-green and noodle-yellow in the bizarre color-lexicon of your brain?”
Faithful reader, I will tell you. You see, a year ago, I got a summer job as a waitress/cashier/garnisher/busser/whatever at a local Noodles and Company.
You will note the presence of green! There are a lot of green decorations and signs and things at Noodle and Company. Also a lot of yellow, what with the omnipresence of noodles.
So when I think of Noodles and Company, I think of green and yellow.
… I see you using that deductive reasoning, dear reader! You are thinking “C.D. says sexual harassment makes her think of yellow and green, and Noodles and Company was yellow and green, so she must have been sexually harassed at Noodles and Company! LOGIC.”
And hey, if that was your thought process, you’d be right! I was sexually harassed at Noodles and Company, and that is why I associate yellow and green with sexual harassment!
The summer-before-last, your faithful blogger (me) got a job at Noodles and Company, where she pulled long hell-shifts of doom (eight hours behind a cash register… one fifteen minute break… blaaaargh) and got paid a ridiculously small amount of money.
But hey, I have to admit, I enjoyed the work. If the pay hadn’t been so terrible, I would go so far as to say I enjoyed the experience.
Well, okay. That’s not strictly accurate. I would have enjoyed the job if:
a) the pay had been better and
b) I had not been confronted with The Gentlemen Groper
I didn’t particularly like the Gentleman Groper. In fact, I rather loathed him. He didn’t do his job; he avoided managers; he was rude to customers; he made inappropriate jokes; he made life more difficult for everyone on his shift.
I was not a fan.
But whatever. I gritted my teeth and indulged in fantasies of chopping him up into noodle-garnish, meanwhile reminding myself that he was only seventeen, and that he might – MIGHT – eventually get over it.
And then he started poking me.
Sadly, I’m not talking a casual, one-time, “Hey, look at the giant Elephant eating the kangaroo over there!” poke.
The Gentlemen Groper (who should really be called The Gentlemen Poker, but that would ruin the alliteration) usually targeted my waist, my torso or my arms. His charming technique was to poke me until I yelped, and then giggle.
And he would not stop.
I’m not kidding, he would do this like, five or six times an hour. It was ridiculous (it also meant he wasn’t doing his job, which meant *I* was doing his job… all while getting poked).
Because all terrible things must get worst, the poking evolved.
After a few days, any time there was an excuse to touch me, the Gentlemen Groper took it. Dish to garnish? He grabbed my wrist to correct my sprinkling technique. Customer to talk to? He’d steer me towards them by grabbing my waist, even when I pushed him away. A break in the customer madness? Then it was time for spontaneous hugs! Eventually, he started pinching my arms and “accidentally” brushing against my breasts and ass.
And the poking continued.
Now, in “real life,” – in situations where I can’t get fired for punching people – things might have ended rather painfully for the Gentlemen Groper.
Because I am the Feminist Batwoman, and All Shall Fear My Wrath.
But I was at work, where stepping on The Gentlemen Groper’s foot or pinching the nerves in his forearms would not go over well. [hey, I knew a lot about self-defense. Where do you think I got these mad batwoman skillz from?)
So I tried a different technique:
"Please stop touching me."
"Gentlemen Groper, stop poking me."
"Listen to what I am saying to you. You need to stop touching me."
"I don't want you to hug me. Don't hug me."
"Don't grab my arm, Gentlemen Groper."
"Stop. Touching. Me."
"You do not have my permission to touch me."
"Gentlemen Groper, I'm not kidding. Stop touching me."
"Don't poke me."
I kept my voice low and serious. I refused to laugh. I did everything the textbooks on harassment say to do: I was clear, concise and forceful. And I'm pretty sure I used every variation on "stop" in the book.
None of them worked. The Gentlemen Groper would just laugh, and accuse me of being oversensitive. A few minutes later, he'd touch me again, and I'd suppress the urge to scream.
I told my friends and parents about the harassment. They were all supportive, especially my mother (who offered to come to the store and threaten the Gentlemen Groper with the force of her awesomeness), but at some point in our conversation, she said what I’d dreaded hearing ever since the harassment started:
“You know, maybe he’s just really bad at flirting.”
There is a difference between harassment and flirting. I don’t care how terrible you are at flirting, the words “no” and”stop” always, always, ALWAYS mean STOP. And if you refuse to stop, then it’s not flirting anymore.
But even if I knew my mother was wrong, there was a reason I’d been dreading the flirting line. I was afraid. I was afraid that my supervisors wouldn’t see the Gentlemen Groper’s behavior as harassment. Or that my harassment wasn’t bad enough to “count” as real. That it would just be interpreted as harmless flirtation. That I would be accused of making waves for no reason.
So I didn’t ask to file a harassment form.
Instead, I started having minor panic attacks every time anyone came near me at my job. I was tense for entire shifts, waiting for the pokes and gropes and hugs that (inevitably) came. When work was done, I noticed that my muscles were actually sore with pain because I’d been holding them tight for so long. I approached shifts with the Gentlemen Groper by putting on tunnel-vision glasses so I couldn’t concentrate on anything but my job and the words I would (inevitably) need: “Stop.” “Don’t touch me.”
I used to love closing the restaurant; now, I hated working late at night. Closing shifts meant there was no one in the store except me, the Gentlemen Groper, and a manager. No witnesses. Worse was all the space between me and my bike, out in a dark parking lot with no one around. If the Gentlemen Groper wouldn’t stop touching me in public, what would he do in private, at night, where no one could see? How far would he go?
Once I got on the bike, though, I felt safe – finally. I’m a fairly fast rider at the best of times, but fear of the Gentlemen Groper made me exponentially faster.
I was safe.
Until the next shift.
There was a point when I actually started timing how long it took for me to get from the restaurant door to my bike.
That’s when I knew I was terrified.
That’s when I knew something had to be done. This was not okay. I couldn’t go through more shifts of constantly being touched. I couldn’t go through more shifts of wondering if things would get worse. I needed to do something.
Unfortunately, I was still too scared to file an official harassment report. So I did the next best thing. I started making a point of saying “No,” in front of managers. That way, I thought, they’d see what was happening, and they would back me up.
Oooh boy, was I wrong.
My new strategy worked about as well as my old one. I made sure to stick around the managers, so they wouldn’t be able to miss the Gentlemen Groper’s actions. Then Gentlemen Groper would poke me, or grab me, and I’d say “Gentlemen Groper, I’ve said this a hundred times. You need to stop touching me.”
I’d steal a glance at the managers to make sure they’d heard me. They had.
But they didn’t back me up.
Most of the managers said nothing, either to me or to the Gentlemen Groper. Worse, some of them encouraged him.
Once, when I told the Gentlemen Groper I didn’t like being touched, a manager started laughing, telling the Gentlemen Groper I was playing “hard to get.”
After another poking incident, the Gentlemen Groper said: “I just poke you because I like you!”
To which a manager near us said: “Bet you don’t have any good replies for that one, C.D. He’s got a good point!”
Good point? GOOD POINT? I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that the Gentlemen Groper’s good disposition towards me gave him unrestricted access to my body. I thought *I* was the only one who could grant that access.
From those interactions, it was pretty clear to me that management just did not care. Correctly or not, I assumed that if I filed a formal complaint, the reaction would be the same – indifference or worse.
Discouraged, but not yet defeated, I continued my campaign of snapping at the Gentlemen Groper every time he touched me. I might not be able to stop him, but damn it, if I was going to deal with panic attacks, I was at least going to get the satisfaction of telling him off.
And it turned out I’d been wrong. One member of the management did care.
The restaurant’s single female manager had been on vacation leave for the past few weeks. The day she came back, the Gentlemen Caller and I had another one of our lovely interactions.
“Stop touching me.”
“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.”
“That’s not a good enough reason!”
Suddenly, the Managing Savior stepped in: “Yeah, but Gentlemen Groper, you need to stop touching C.D. If she says she doesn’t want you to touch her, then you don’t touch her.”
And then he stopped.
I am not even joking. He didn’t touch me again for another two weeks (and then he started again, but that’s another story).
Talk about the power of management! I’d been telling the Gentlemen Groper to stop for weeks; the manager says one sentence, and BOOM.
Here’s the thing. My story isn’t interesting because it’s rare. My story is interesting because of how fucking banal it is.
After the Gentlemen Groper stopped touching me, I found out that he’d done the same thing to every single woman on staff who was in my age range.
Every. Single. One.
He wasn’t just a Gentlemen Groper. He was a Serial Gentlemen Groper.
[Sidenote: you know how all the other women got him to stop? By telling the Gentlemen Groper that they had boyfriends. Because we live in a fucking patriarchy, where an invisible boyfriend has more authority over a woman's body than she does.]
Like I said, my harassment story is ridiculously banal. Even within my workplace, I was the rule, not the exception.
And out of my workplace?
31% of women report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work
7% of men report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work
62% of the targets took no action.
Sexual harassment isn’t some kind of rare crime that happens to people you don’t know. It happens everywhere. It happens to everyone. A third of the working women you know have been sexually harassed.
And close to one-tenth of all the working men you know have also been sexually harassed.
Yeeaaaahhh…. I’m not sure “awkward” is the word I’d use.
Rage-inducing might be more like it.
WHY IS THIS EVEN A FUCKING PROBLEM?
I mean, I realize I’m reinventing the feminism wheel over here, but seriously. This is a problem that should never even be a problem, because people should know that “no” means “no.” They should know that people’s bodies are their own, and you don’t touch people without their consent. And managers should ENFORCE THOSE RULES, and pay attention when their employees are all “NO TOUCHING.”
Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten?
Here’s the end of the story:
My summer ended. I left to go back to school. And the Gentlemen Groper? He’s still there.
Other women will come and work at that store, and I don’t doubt he’ll do the same things to them that he did to me.
I know there are people reading this who will think I didn’t do enough. That I should have reported him, formally. That I must have been inviting the attention, somehow. I fear I’ll get a bunch of comments in the vein of “well, if you’d told him to stop in this very particular way, he would have stopped!”
Heck, there’s a part of me that believes that I could have done something differently. That I was inviting the attention, or that I’m responsible for the Gentlemen Groper’s future actions.
But let’s dissect that for a minute, my fair readers.
I was harassed. I was poked and prodded and groped. I lived in a near-constant state of panic attacks. And because all these shitty things happened to me, I’ve also been endowed with some magic responsibility to control The Gentlemen Groper’s actions for all of eternity?
With Great Victimhood comes Great Responsibility?
What is this Reverse Spiderman crap?
I mean, seriously. Not only do I get sexually harassed (hurrah), but on top of everything else, my being sexually harassed gives me EXTRA responsibilities? The fact that I was harassed means I need to be subjected to even more more scrutiny and humiliation? I have to put my job and my safety even more in danger in order to report the harassment to supervisors who, let’s face it, didn’t look particularly interested in stopping it?
I told the Gentlemen Groper to stop in no uncertain terms. I did it repeatedly. I did it fifteen times a shift, occasionally.
And he did nothing.
My managers saw the Gentlemen Groper harassing me; they saw me tell him to stop; they saw him keep doing it.
And they did nothing.
So you know what? If you’ve read this post and your first reaction is “well, you could have done THIS differently” or “why didn’t YOU file a harassment report”?
Then I could give a fuck about what you think.
The person responsible for my sexual harassment?
The Gentlemen Groper.
The people who should have helped, but didn’t? [and who, in some cases, actively encouraged the Gentlemen Groper]
Their behavior should be the issue, not mine. I know the extent of my responsibility in the incident of the Gentlemen Groper.
I know what I can do. I know what I “should” do.
Quick tangent: You know what the most annoying thing about this whole situation is?
I still feel guilty, two years out. There are parts of me that still feel like I should have been able to “handle it.” I should have been able to have that legendary sense of humor. I should not have “overreacted.” I shouldn’t have bothered everyone with this. It wasn’t that bad.
Hell, why am I even writing this blog post? It’s not that big a deal! I should stop bothering all of you with my silly stories. There are people out there experiencing real sexual harassment, as opposed to… whatever happened to me.
Those feelings? Those are the most annoying part.
And that’s why I didn’t report the harassment.
That’s also why, I suspect, most people don’t report sexual harassment. Because we as a culture teach people – and especially women – that they just need to put up with this crap. We as a culture refuse to stand behind harassment victims. We teach people that they should be “flattered” by the attention. That they shouldn’t make a big deal. We remind people that their harassers have lives too: “Do you want to ruin the Gentlemen Groper’s life, C.D.? Do you want to ruin your manager’s lives by bothering them?”
Sexual harassment happens because our culture encourages harassers and silences victims.
I’ve gotten (somewhat) over blaming myself for the harassment. I’ve moved to a place where I can be proud of myself for recognizing what was happening, and for standing up for myself.
I’ve gotten over telling myself I could have done something different.
I’ve gotten over the whole idea that victims have a special responsibility to confront their harassers and magically end sexual harassment through the power of gumption and bootstraps.
But I wanted to do something.
My story is banal. There are millions others like it. But sexual harassment thrives in a culture of silence. We just don’t talk about it. *I* didn’t talk about it.
But I wanted to do something.
So I wrote about it.
Because the first thing we can do – the first thing I can do – is talk about the harassment. Stop pretending it doesn’t happen. Tell people what it looks like. Make it clear that it’s not okay.
Sexual harassment thrives in silence. And no matter how guilty I feel for speaking up, I will not be silent anymore.
Resources: If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed, remember: the harasser’s behavior is not your fault or your responsibility.
Some people want help and advice. Hell, I could have used help and advice while I was being harassed. If you’re one of those people (and you don’t have to be) here’s a good listing of sexual harassment hotlines and resources.
Another, less formal resource is Captain Awkward’s post on the Creepy Dude. It’s brilliant, funny and the advice therein (and in the comments section) is remarkably not-victim-blamey and useful.
Comments policy: any victim-blaming bullshit will either be deleted or mocked. If you write an entire screed about what I “should” have done, you are warned, I will mock you, and I will not be nice about it.
General advice for sexual harassment victims is okay, within limits. Tread carefully. Do not use the word “should.” Remember that people experiencing harassment have enough to deal with without being made to feel inadequate for not behaving “correctly.” Also, if your comment is anything like “well, you can magically control your reactions to being constantly groped,” I will mock you.
And if your comment is ANYWHERE near “but will all flirting be banned then?” or “it’s so hard for men; they constantly have to watch themselves to make sure they’re not making people uncomfortable” (wait, this is a bad thing?) I will mock you SO HARD.
Finally any comments diagnosing the Gentlemen Groper with some kind of mental illness or disability will similarly be deleted or mocked. Excusing the Groper’s behavior because of a disability/illness is insulting to other people with mental illnesses (like me) or mental disabilities, because it assumes that people with mental illnesses/disabilities are a) all assholes and b) are incapable of understanding the word “no.” The topic has been well covered elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: people with mental and social disabilities are still perfectly capable of understanding the words “stop” and “no.”