Tag Archives: institutional sexism

Who Chooses SF Classics? Who Chooses Our Required Reading?

The Book Smugglers started a very interesting discussion on Twitter today, about what makes something a “classic” of science fiction.

I have many Thoughts on this stuff.  In particular, the “You haven’t read HEINLEIN?  You’re not a true fan!” attitude bothers me for many, many reasons, starting with my discomfort with defining “true fans,” and running through my own particular opinion that Heinlein, however influential, is certainly not the be-all end-all of the genre, my discomfort with making anything “required reading” in a genre this large and diverse, and my own personal feelings on Heinlein’s writing, which are somewhere between “eh” and “not all he’s cracked up to be.”

I feel similarly about any of the other “classic” writers who were repeatedly recommended to me in one breath in my youth, except with variations on my personal taste for them (I’m an Asimov and Bradbury nut but could never get into Dune or Snow Crash, but all that’s neither here nor there).  The point I’m getting around to is, if you’ve been a SF fan as long as I have, you feel like you’ve at least tried all the “classics” (or you’re aware of your “blasphemy” in not having read them yet).  That even before the days of the Internet, you’d be assured of eventually having a conversation along the lines of, “You’ve never read [Classic Author]???  Where have you BEEN?!  Read [Classic Title] right now!” so by the time you were a seasoned SF fan you at least felt like you knew all the Important Names.

All this is a backdrop to what I really want to talk about here, which is possibly a very small piece of all this, but also possibly representative, and the only part of my relevant thoughts that feels remotely coherent.  Namely: my reaction the first time I read Octavia Butler.

It was relatively recently.  After college.  Long after I had foolishly presumed I knew of every Big Name in the genre.  I started to diversify my reading because Reasons, and the first name on every single list of SF authors of color was Octavia Butler.  The first recommendation on everyone’s lips, if we conditioned first for diversity.

So I picked up Bloodchild.

And I remember being shocked.  Mind-numbingly shocked.  Because I didn’t get this — I didn’t get how I could have been a fan for so long, had had the luminaries of the genre recommended to me time and time again in a myriad of different contexts, and no one had ever told me to read Butler.  The only places I’d seen her were on lists regarding diversity and authors of color, the lists I’d only just sought out.

I’d never seen her name unfurled in the litanies of classics in the same breath as Asimov or Bradbury.  And I couldn’t understand why.  Octavia Butler is not a great SF writer of color, or a great female SF writer. She’s a great SF writer.

And in her case there is no question that this could be only my own subjective her-work-touched-me opinion.  If you look her up, she’s widely acknowledged in every biographical piece as a master of SFF.  Award winning.  Massively respected.  And if we’re measuring influence and groundbreaking in the field as metrics of what makes a classic, it’s hard for me to fathom the idea that Octavia Butler wouldn’t fit that definition.

If I name her as a classic SF author, I never expect anyone to argue with me.

And yet, nearly every time I see someone else recommend her, it’s segregated. Qualified.  A recommendation given if you want writers of color.

I don’t understand how we can have a genre where “You haven’t read HEINLEIN (/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury/Dick/etc.)??” are common and accepted refrains, and “You haven’t read BUTLER??” is almost unheard.  Why aren’t we saying it?  Why isn’t Octavia Butler considered “required reading” of the classics in order to consider oneself a True SF Fan?  Why don’t people feel left out and incomplete if they haven’t read her?[1]

I don’t really know what defines a classic, or who should get to say what one is.  But I do know I find myself feeling deeply uncomfortable with any popular mentality that shames people for not reading influential white men while giving a pass to those who skip the influential black women.

Edited to add: Ana of The Book Smugglers turned her thoughts into a thought-provoking essay here.  I highly recommend both that and the Storify for a broader articulation of the issues surrounding this point.

  1. Sarcasm intended here; as noted I think there’s something problematic about these attitudes in general, though my thoughts on them are not quite articulate enough to form a post from.

Can We Please Not Rewrite History, Folks? (More on the SFWA Petition, and Links.)

Yesterday I ranted about how badly-written a certain petition is.  (It just offends me as a logician and a writer, yanno?)  I thought I would leave it at that, because books to write, and there are lots of other people saying very intelligent things so I don’t have to (see below).

But there’s one thing I see coming up over and over that nobody else seems to be addressing, and it’s driving me crazy.

I’m seeing continual efforts in some corners to frame the issues of the past year as people overreacting to the “lady writer”/”lady editor” columns in the Bulletin and to (poor! victimized!) Resnick and Malzberg daring to call women beautiful. Those columns were, in my humble opinion, inappropriate for the publication, but the people calling them out as such were respectful and relatively muted. (As were the criticisms of the (also inappropriate) Bulletin cover and the (also inappropriate) Barbie column that happened in parallel.)  There were eyerolls.  There were sighs.  The criticism I saw was polite and rather mild.

The thing that blew up the Internet was when Resnick and Malzberg decided to respond to those (respectful, muted) criticisms of their columns by scorching the fucking Earth. By calling their detractors “liberal fascists,” comparing their critics to Stalin and Mao, and making references to censorship and thought control. That was in the May 31 issue of the Bulletin, two issues and six months after the initial “lady writers” column.

That was not reasoned debate. That was a nuclear escalation of abusive, dehumanizing rhetoric against anyone who dared to disagree with them. And they did it in the publication of the professional organization that purported to represent a lot of those same people.

There’s a huge, huge difference between that and reasoned, relevant disagreement.  There’s a chasm the size of the Mariana Trench between that and the respectful airing of differing political views.

Personally, I’m sorry it took something so extreme to bring change to the publication—like this link points out, the Bulletin is a trade publication and thus should strive for professionality and relevance to the needs of the members (why is this even a question?). But I strongly object to the reframing of history some people are endeavoring to make here. It’s disingenuous and it’s minimizing. It’s casting the people who called for change as (shocking! unreasonable!) overreactors to a bunch of friendly old guys who (gasp!) dared to fondly use the word “lady,” and that is not at all what happened.

Look, I’ve even provided this handy timeline for you to reference.  Stop making shit up.  Stop rewriting events to cast the people who disagree with you as the bad guys and the people you support as picked-on innocents who were just writing some innocuous column about women writers, doncha know.  It’s not true.  And as a rhetorical tactic, it’s disgusting.

If your points are worth making, you should be able to make them without falsifying history.

(Speaking personally: the initial “lady writers” and “lady editors” columns made me roll my eyes, not think Resnick/Malzberg/the editorial direction of the Bulletin needed to be reamed in the public square. It was the later column that brought that reaction. And I think the same was true of many other critics.)

Now for Links

There are lots of people writing really insightful, intelligent things.  Have some links:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia compares the SFWA Bulletin to the trade publications of other professional organizations.  “I’m not worried about censorship. I’m worried we are a joke.” (This makes me want to join RWA, even though I’ve never successfully written romance in my life.)  Rachael Acks, whom I linked to yesterday, made a very similar point, and I continue to think it’s a good one.

A parody petition by Jim C. Hines, exhorting the president of RWA for more mantitty.  “If you continue this Politically Correct censorship of mantitties, aren’t you creating a slippery slope that leads to DEATH PANELS?” (This made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. Several times. Applause, Jim!)

SFWA released as statement regarding the petition. “While this petition has not been formally presented to SFWA, I have seen versions and they express concerns for something that does not and will not exist […]” (In other words, someone who is not a member of SFWA circulated an inflammatory petition spearheading a charge against something that . . . was never real. Yup, that sounds about right.)

Gary Farber’s Facebook page has some discussion I’ve found fascinating, including by a lot of pros.

I also recommend reading the comments at Natalie Luhrs’ post, which I also recommended yesterday, and which remains the most comprehensive rundown of the entire situation.

(Parts of this blog post were originally written for the discussion over at Absolute Write and posted there.)

The Tiresome Fringe of SFWA: the Gift That Keeps On Giving

I was offline most of today because I was working on a book.  (Well, there was also a six-mile hike in there, but I consider that productive also.)  So I didn’t see the shit hit the fan until tonight.

And you know what?  I’m tired.  I’m really fucking tired of this.  I’d much rather be working on my fucking book.  My book has gunfights in it.  And explosions.  And complexity theory.  COMPLEXITY THEORY, PEOPLE.  I don’t want to be blogging about some fucking asshole who wrote some fucking petition claiming that SFWA deciding to have more editorial oversight over the professional publication of the organization after massive member complaints last year is somehow “censorship.”

That’s so fucked-up I don’t know where to begin.  You know what, maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll just direct you to Natalie Luhrs’ excellently articulate rundown of the situation (it includes links to the full text of the petitions, both the original horribly-racist-and-sexist one and the we’re-going-to-be-slightly-less-inflammatory-here-even-though-we-claim-to-be-against-any-editorial-oversight one, and many of the comments are also well worth reading).  Or Rachael Acks’ brilliantly incisive points about how SFWA is supposed to be a professional organization. And then I’ll go back to writing my book, because there’s only so much of this I can take.

But no, there’s one other thing I want to say.  What should be angering me here is the same old tired racist/sexist bullshit, these people’s insistence, their fucking entitlement, about their “right” to maintain a toxic environment within a professional organization.  But I’m just too tired.  Can’t muster the ire.

Instead, you know what’s really sticking in my craw on this one?  How fucking stupid the petition is.

It’s an illogical, fallacious, badly-written disgrace.

Look, I’m not even talking about the fact that I disagree with it.  There’s plenty of nuance to be had in conversations about free discourse and editorial direction.  I’ve had many a civilized debate about that sort of thing, and sometimes I disagreed, vehemently, with the people I was talking to, but they still made sense, they thought things through, they articulated arguments that made me have to think about what they said.  There’s value in that sort of debate.  A lot of value.

What makes me really disgruntled tonight is that I see the names of people who have signed onto this mess of a petition and I say, “Really?  REALLY?  You thought it was a good idea to put your name on that?  That godawful excuse for an argument that makes no fucking sense?

We’re science fiction and fantasy!  We’re the people who try to build worlds so complicated and consistent that they violate Goedel!  We’re the people who interpolate and extrapolate, into the heart of the human condition and into the future, who revel in science and logic and rational thought!  Aren’t we supposed to have some understanding of logic?  Of what a fallacy looks like?  Couldn’t one of those signatories have looked at this stupid-ass excuse for an opinion, found the kernel of truth he or she agreed with, and written something that wouldn’t have gotten a failing grade in a high school English class?[1]  You’re supposed to be writers, for crying out loud!

Disagree with me all you want.  But for god’s sake, at least have the courtesy to do it intelligently.

(p.s. — I’ve updated the timeline with this.  Why oh why are there still things happening to update it with?)

  1. To be fair, I can’t really find anything in the petition’s arguments that isn’t logically fallacious, so maybe the reason nobody wrote a better one is that it’s not possible.  But that should really tell you guys something, shouldn’t it . . .

Why I Chose an “Ethnic” Pen Name

I work under two different professional names that are not my own (one for film, and SL Huang for writing).  In both cases I chose surnames closely linked to my heritage, despite having, in both cases, extremely sound marketing reasons not to.

Institutional racism is a thing that exists.  I was making up my own name, my own brand.  Why wouldn’t I choose a name to be more . . . generic?  Less ethnic?

It’s a good question.  After all, I’ve deliberately chosen a genderless pen name for writing, and I like having my gender not immediately and obviously available.  Because of what I write about and what issues I care about, I’m misgendered online just about half the time, and it amuses me.

So why was it extremely important for me to choose professional names that tell people where I’m from and that I’m a person of color?  Why did choosing a name contrary to my heritage, or a name I felt belied my race, or even a made-up combination of syllables feel so wrong to me when I considered it?[1]

Revisiting my thought processes, I think I know the answer:

Because just like choosing to make a character white is a choice, whatever name I chose would be a choice.  There is no generic.  There is no default.  If I chose an Anglo-Saxon surname, that wouldn’t be saying nothing about me; it would be saying something about me.  It would be choosing to identify myself with a heritage I don’t identify with.  One that doesn’t feel like me.

Even if I made up a name, I’d be choosing phonemes that come out of language.  There would be an origin.  The sounds I chose would say something about my linguistic identity.  And I don’t think I can express even my linguistic identity without referencing the tongues of my ancestors, the tongues that I’ve lost.  The holes in that identity feel as much a part of me as my love for the English language and its Germanic and Latin roots.

So, why did I choose an “ethnic” pen name?  The answer: Because all pen names are ethnic.

There is no name that says nothing, no blank space I can put on a book to leave a question mark as to my identity.  I might be fine with leaving a mystery that people might make mistaken assumptions about, but I’m not fine with supporting the idea of a certain default kind of person.  I’m not fine with being someone else’s idea of that default.  Why is Huang any less of a generic blank of a name than Johnson or Williams or Miller?  Why should it be?  It makes me angry that it isn’t, and when I’m angry I get stubborn.  Maybe my choice of pen name is more about my own contrariness than anything else.

So, what about institutional racism?  People do judge based on names, and may pre-judge my books.  But there’s another side of that: maybe, just maybe, if my books are good enough and fun enough and enough people like them, I can be one tiny drop in the pushback against stereotyping Huangs and Wangs and Chens everywhere.[2]  For me personally, that possibility makes up for whatever initial handicap the name might give me.

Because after all, my main reason for choosing the pen name I did wasn’t a political reason in the first place: it was that I had to feel my pen name matched my identity.  And since whatever name I chose would be some ethnic choice, I chose one that fit.

(As I said in the footnotes, this blog post is about how I feel personally with regard to my own feelings on my identity only, and I completely understand why others would make a different decision.  I’d love to hear other thoughts in comments from people who have made these choices.)

  1. I want to make it clear that I’m only talking personally in this post, about my own feelings about my identity and what felt right to me.  I make no judgments against people who do choose pen names that sound less “ethnic” to American ears or ones that outright reverse gender for marketing reasons.  As I said, I did consider it myself . . . it’s a personal decision, and it’s complicated, and I’d never look down on anyone else for their choices.  This blog post is just about my own personal feelings about my pen name only. :)
  2. Yes, yes, I KNOW I’m writing a book with lots of math in it.  Cue the Asian stereotype joke here . . . (It also has lots of guns, though!)

Connotations When Genderswapping Characters

I’m in the midst of implementing beta feedback on my book, and as an experiment I am giving a secondary character who annoyed one of my betas a personality transplant.  Because it was hard to keep my mind from falling back into the well-worn tracks of the character’s previous personality, I also genderswapped him, which has been very effective in forcing my mind to think of the new character as entirely different.

And now there’s a line that’s bugging me.  A line that I thought was funny, when the character was a guy, but now seems . . . a bit skeevy, perhaps, now that I’m talking about a gal.  Here’s the bit, condensed slightly, back when I was talking about a male character:

I still had a valuable item stashed inside, and if I wanted to finish the job and get paid by my client, I had to get it out safely.

[…] I skidded up to a metal utility shed and slammed the sliding door back. My valuable item, also known as Leonard Polk, made a small whimpering sound and scrambled backward before he recognized me and relaxed.

“My valuable item, also known as Leonard Polk.”  Cute, right?

Only when I switched it to Courtney Polk, suddenly it wasn’t cute anymore.  Having my MC refer to a young woman as a “valuable item” who was of only financial worth feels kind of ugly and uncomfortable, feelings I didn’t get about the male version at all.  (For what it’s worth, my MC is a woman, but that doesn’t help.)

I think the reason is that so often, in the real world, women are treated as commodities.  Referring to a young woman as a “valuable item,” or with the pronoun “it,” pushes a button in my brain somewhere.  I start thinking of human trafficking, of women sold as unwilling prostitutes, as things to be bought and sold and traded.

I want to scream, because I really like that section of the text!  I like the wording of it, and the slick segue.  I think it’s clever and even a little funny.

But if I keep the genderswap, I think I have to change it.


Hard Scifi: I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means.

There are certain people out there who seem to be misusing the term “hard science fiction.”

In preparing to write this entry, I was actually shocked that the definitions I found for “hard science fiction” completely agreed with me on what it should mean: namely, that the fictional science included is made as realistic, as explicable, as possible.  Hard scifi seeks to extrapolate from real scientific knowledge, to present future tech that seems plausible given the current state of our real-world understanding . . . it strives both to work within known science, and to extend it.

The flip side of this is “soft scifi,” which operates on handwavium.  Spaceships exist because they do; lightspeed travel is possible because it is; the state of AI constantly contradicts itself and the technology can spawn new tentacles as the plot demands without any adherence to known natural law.

This is, of course, a continuum: many types of fiction fall between the two extremes, and people can debate endlessly whether something should be categorized as “hard” or “soft.”

These are the same definitions I have always taken for granted, until recently.  Still, I was surprised when my Google search agreed with me entirely . . . because it seems that every time someone insinuates that women can’t or don’t write hard scifi, this is not the definition those people are using.  Which leads me to: What the hell, people.

Come on.  If we accept that hard science fiction has only to do with realism and rigor, then a lot of what people say about it is just. plain. wrong!  Let’s look at this rationally for a moment, shall we?  Working from such a definition, we get:

What Hard Scifi Isn’t

  1. Hard science fiction does not preclude romance.
    Why on earth would it?  The level of romance in a story versus how well the technology is explained are two entirely orthogonal concepts.  Why would one in any way impact the other?  Why do some people set up romances as the opposite of hard scifi, when it is entirely possible to have a romance plot be central to a world of completely consistent technology and also entirely possible to have a handwaved, contradictory universe with no romance plot at all?  If two characters fall in love over a background of solving Navier-Stokes, with completely realistic fluid dynamics, you bet your ass that’s hard scifi.
  2. Nor does hard science fiction preclude a concentration on human relationships.
    In fact, I would argue that writing harder, more realistic science fiction should encourage more concentration on the relationships between characters.  What is something that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of scientific progress continually complains about with regard to science fiction?  That it completely ignores the massive collaboration present in real scientific advancement!  The “lone genius” is a common trope of fiction, but how often does this happen in reality?  The world of science is full of relationships—and not just cursory relationships, but loves, rivalries, scandals, heartbreak . . . hey, one of my favorite books as a child[1] was a book about the drama that has surrounded the history of mathematics.  The Axiom of Choice and the Well-Ordering Principle, Newton versus Leibniz, the cult of Pythagoras, the strong friendships and collaborations of Hardy and Littlewood or Lovelace and Babbage . . . mathematicians are passionate people, and the interpersonal stories of mathematics alone would fill a library.  Nor are the other sciences exempt.  A novel featuring scientists who lack any interpersonal interaction, any irrationality or yearning or vast emotion, feels . . . well, unrealistic.
  3. Hard science fiction is not limited to the hard sciences.
    There seems to be some assumption that hard science fiction must be the purview of those who are experts in physics.  Why?  Why don’t the other sciences get any love?  Hey, one of my favorite science fiction stories ever is Isaac Asimov’s tale of a goose who literally lays golden eggs—Asimov, being a biochemist, provided a very well-thought-out accounting of the phenomenon, and in my opinion, this is one of the hardest science fiction stories of all time.  Why do we not assume that hard scifi can encompass all sciences, including chemistry, biology, even sociology?  Heck, I’m dead serious when I say I think the argument could certainly be made that The Handmaid’s Tale is rock-hard science fiction (with apologies to Margaret Atwood[2]).
  4. Hard science fiction does not and should not equate with space travel, military scifi, plentiful technology, or even a plot driven by the science fictional elements. It’s the realism of the science that matters, not the flashiness.
    When most people think “hard scifi,” they probably picture something vaguely like Star Trek—except that Star Trek is one of the squishiest science fiction premises in the galaxy.  It’s practically a fluid.  Yet I’m suspicious that’s what people tend to picture, rather than, y’know, The Handmaid’s Tale.
  5. Hard science fiction is not inherently smarter, more sophisticated, more well-written, or in any way better than soft science fiction.
    Don’t believe me?  Look at some of the classics of science fiction.  H.G. Wells is about as soft as it gets, and I defy anybody to say that made his works less valuable to the genre.  Douglas Adams is another name no one would dare to defile, and the hardest thing about his science fiction is keeping all the contradictory time travel straight.  Why on earth would any writers (read: female writers) get discounted because their work doesn’t scratch diamond?  In other words, why can men be respected for writing soft science fiction, but when the author is female, the observation of what sub-genre her work falls into suddenly becomes a criticism, something to belittle her with?

I should add that of course women can write hard science fiction with no romance and a heavy emphasis on flashy space-faring physics if they want to.  Duh.  But I’m sick of the above insinuations about the sub-genre, because they do strike me as a quite blatant attempt to draw boundaries that will exclude or put down as many female writers as possible.[3]

  1. I was an odd child.
  2. For those who don’t know, Atwood has in the past resisted the characterization of the book as science fiction at all.
  3. I’m not actually sure modern SF by women includes more relationships/romance/etc. than modern SF by men—anecdotally, I’m suspicious that it’s more older SF that eschews character-driven tales, and not male-authored SF, since all the modern SF I’ve read by men seems to include relationships as well.  But because the playing field in prior decades was so much more vastly unequal than it is today, drawing the lines to exclude trends in modern SF would also result in disproportionately excluding female writers . . . as I expect the people doing it intend.

The Reason Escapist Time Travel Doesn’t Star Women Is That We Haven’t Written It Yet

In Anna Smith’s recent article for The Guardian, she asks, “Why Can’t Women Time Travel?” and points out the paucity of female protagonists in time travel capers.  From Back to the Future to The Time Traveler’s Wife, the time travel sub-genre of science fiction has been one trail-blazed mainly by men.

Charlie Stross then wrote a response, the thesis of which is that because of the privilege necessary to be a “time tourist,” the time travel sub-genre is inherently sexist:

The time travel story is a tale of tourism in the classical sense: an activity of the privileged, making spectacle of the past (and, occasionally, the Wellsian future). And women make poor time travelers because in the foreign countries of the past they lack the agency conferred by privilege.

(bold in the original)

Stross’s piece goes on to make the following points:

  1. People seek out “time tourism” media for escapism, and women make poor protagonists for these tales because there would be too much sexism in the past for them (and therefore the reader who is identifying with them) to have a good time;
  2. When one writes a time travel book (or film), one MUST address the sexism in past times, which necessarily makes for “grim reading” if one insists on having a female protagonist;
  3. A male time traveler can happily explore all of time as an epic adventure, whereas a female time traveler is doomed unless she’s packing futuristic weaponry (or is somehow otherwise conferred extra power).  And that destroys the reader’s ability to relate to her.

I wholeheartedly reject every one of these notions.

For the record, I think Stross was trying to make a very good point about our romanticization of the past and the privilege inherent in it.  His piece isn’t meant to be sexist—it’s meant to critique the sexism he sees in a particular genre.  My understanding of what he wrote is that he believes that the strictures of the “time tourism” sub-genre mean it must be led by men, and that the entire existence of the sub-genre is a problematic thing.

As someone who rather adores “time tourism” stories, as he calls them, and would like to see more women star in them, I quite disagree.

Sure, I certainly see Stross’s point that romanticization of the past is in inherent in escapist time travel.  And I would be willing to entertain the consideration that this is both endemic and problematic to the sub-genre—is escapist entertainment a social ill when it puts a shiny veneer across humanity’s history?  Personally, I would argue that it is no more inherently problematic than being entertained by the violence in a cheesy action movie—in both cases, a broader social consciousness of the differences with the real world is important, but I would not condemn such entertainment as (necessarily) socially irresponsible.  I do, however, acknowledge that these questions make for interesting academic discussion.

But if we accept the possible entertainment value of historical romanticization, it makes utterly no sense to me why this means the genre must be sexist!  That would be like saying cheesy action movies are violence for entertainment and therefore must have poor female representation—the existence of violence in action films is an entirely separate criticism from the propensity of the genre to have male leads, and should not be conflated in criticism.  After all, there are plenty of women who enjoy escapist action, and plenty of people of all genders who will pay good money to see cheesy action movies starring women bustin’ things up.  The answer to the male domination among action heroes is to make more buddy action comedies starring women, not to condemn the entire genre as a sexist lost cause.

Similarly, the criticism that “time tourism” presents a romanticized notion of history may be a valid one, but in no way means that the protagonists must all be men.  And I very much dislike the argument, because it dismisses the idea that women can perfectly well star in escapist time travel, just as women can perfectly well star in terrible action flicks.  In fact, just as feminism will make a great stride when women are allowed to be any type of character, I think sexism will take a great hit when women are allowed to be leads in any genre, no matter how cheesy, terribly-written, or historically inaccurate.

And it’s not hard to do this.  To further the comparison, I would say the larger-than-life qualities of action films makes it easier to make the leads any gender, and similarly, I think the very romanticization Stross objects to would allow time travel stories to be happily gender-equal.  The stumbling block isn’t that the sub-genre has condemned itself to sexism: it’s instead the same pervasive institutional sexism that defaults all our SFF protagonists toward the male end of the spectrum, and it has a very easy solution, namely, we need to write more female leads into escapist time travel stories.

And there’s no reason in the world why we can’t.  Consider the following:

Continue reading

Fighting Ingrained Assumptions, Or: In Which I May Be a Racist, Classist Asshole

Twitter seemed a better medium for my disorganized thoughts on this matter.  I posted the following this morning:




It’s hard for me to sort it all out.  Because obviously, my safety and the safety of the people I’m going to be living with is of paramount importance to me.  But when does wanting to be “safe” cross over into being bigoted?

Another thing I didn’t mention in the tweets is how . . . out of place I felt walking around the new neighborhood.  The demographic was literally 100 percent Hispanic as far as I could tell.  I was acutely aware of how different I looked, how differently I presented myself.  It was an uncomfortable feeling.

Which, HOO boy, privilege check.  I’m a POC, but I benefit from a great number of the trappings of what we usually consider white privilege.  Moving to this neighborhood would be signing up to give up a very small part of those trappings: being able to walk around my neighborhood without anyone looking at me suspiciously or considering me an outsider, being able to communicate fluently in the dominant language (Spanish) or with the dominant speech patterns in English, having the closest grocery store stock foods that are familiar to me . . .

Now, I am fully aware that these things are such a tiny percentage of the overall privilege I do enjoy.  It’s not like moving will make people less likely to employ me, or make employers pay me less, or make cops more likely to stop me, or make security guards more likely to follow me around at the mall.  I’m not going to be less likely to get a bank loan or more likely to be prosecuted for a crime I didn’t commit.  But I still felt acutely conscious of the privilege I would be giving up by moving . . . and part of me was nervous. Another part of me thought it might make me a better person.  And the largest part of me was almost angry at myself, because the biggest manifestation of my own privilege is that I have the choice here to give it up or not, and I can make this decision all about me and my comfort level if I so choose, and I was so, so, so aware of that and how much thinking about this at all felt very much like #PrivilegedPeopleProblems.  So to speak.

I also worried that moving into a dominant-Hispanic community is invasive, offensive to the community by intruding on a safe space people have carved out for themselves from the majority society.  That my new neighbors might be unhappy about me moving in, and with good reason.  (To be clear, everyone I spoke to in the neighborhood was very friendly, but I still worried.)

We didn’t end up going for that house for other, unrelated reasons (too bad, too, as it was a beautiful house), but we may still end up moving to a similar neighborhood.  I’m still trying to sort through what I think of my reactions here, but at least on the matter of crime rates and safety, I’m going to go only with statistics and talking to the people in the neighborhood—and I’m going to ignore rumor, “what everyone knows,” and the average melanin content of people’s skin in the area.  It’s the least I can do—and I do mean the least—to combat my institutionalized assumptions in this case.

Thoughts?  Has anyone else come up against this?  What did you do?

“I’m a Doctor, not a Mrs!” — genderbent McCoy

Why is it that I can watch TV in the twenty-first century and still see female PhDs and medical doctors not addressed as “Dr?”

My friend used to make fun of me while we watched The West Wing, because every time the other characters addressed Abbey as “Mrs. Bartlet,” I would mutter, “Doctor.”  (To be fair, they did address this later—it turned out the campaign had decided to call her “Mrs.” for “likeability” reasons.[1]  But that was two seasons in, and gosh it pissed me right off, especially considering that even internally they all still called her “Mrs.”  Can I just say how happy I am that the news media always introduces Joe Biden and his wife as “Vice President and Doctor Biden?”)

But now I’m watching The Newsroom, which, awesome show, but dammit if Sorkin isn’t doing it again.  They constantly repeat on the show that Olivia Munn’s character has two PhDs—and yet she’s still somehow always “Miss Sabbith.”  WHAT.

(mild Newsroom spoilers below)

In fact, to add injury to insult, when her boss is tearing into her after she made a bad mistake, he calls her “girl”—to which she retorts, quite rightly, “Don’t call me girl, sir!”  Well, he keeps doing it until the end of the episode (I think it’s supposed to be funny), at which time he lets her out of the doghouse with the peace offering of calling her “Miss Sabbith” instead.


But it’s not just Aaron Sorkin (although Lord help me, and I do think The Newsroom is brilliant, but I’m starting to see patterns in how he writes his female characters . . . well, all his characters, but particularly the female ones).  It’s other shows as well.  For instance, The Big Bang Theory sends the main characters to a conference, and all of them have their names on name placards.  The male PhDs all have “Dr.” in front of their names . . . but neither of the women do.  Now, we find out later that one of them hadn’t received her PhD quite yet at this point, but we also find out at the same time that the other one had.  So WTF, Big Bang Theory?  If the writers just weren’t sure which of the women had graduated yet, why did they have to put “Dr.” on anyone’s nameplate?

Hey, here’s another one.  I’m not a regular follower of NCIS, but I seem to recall Abby Sciuto also has a PhD.  And yet whenever she’s referenced by title, it’s “Ms. Sciuto” . . . unlike (male) Dr. Mallard.

To be sure, most shows don’t do this.  Can you imagine Dr. Brennan, Dr. Hunt, Dr. Cuddy, Dr. Crusher, or Dr. Fraiser being addressed by anything other than their rightful professional titles?  Not a chance, right?  But then why are there shows where this happens?  What does it say that I was ecstatic to see that Dr. Blake on Eureka was never deprived her title, given that (white, male, non-PhD) Carter was the clear lead?[2]  And why am I able to name four modern shows off the top of my head in which this has actively bothered me?

  1. Because of course people prefer a woman to be defined by her relationship to her husband rather than by her own accomplishments, am I right?
  2. Eureka was wonderful for not depriving its female characters of their doctorates, no matter how young and adorable they were.

An Open Letter to the Guy on the Train from LA to San Diego With Me Last Thursday

I wrote most of this entry on the train at the time and am transcribing it now.

Dear Guy Sitting a Few Rows Down From Me On the Train to Comic Con,

You are an asshole.

First of all, you spent about an hour having a lengthy and loud phone conversation about SEO for your business.  Apparently nobody ever taught you that this is not a polite thing to do on a crowded train.  You didn’t get a clue even when someone shushed you, loudly.  Heck, you even emphasized in your phone conversation how it’s so great taking the train because you can sit and talk on the phone the whole time.  Asshole.

Then you started talking to your seatmate, who was a stranger to you, about how you were going down to Comic Con and it’s “so fascinating” to see all these “weird people” who “are 35 or 40 years old and have never left the house, they still live with their parents but they come OUT for this, and make COSTUMES—”  but, you emphasized, it’s such a great business opportunity, because “it’s like a zillion-dollar industry!”

WHAT THE EVER-LIVING FUCK.  Fuck you.  We are not a fucking zoo exhibit, you asshole.

My consolation here is that if you ever do try to tap us as a demographic, you will crash and burn, because you clearly fail to think of us as human beings.

(Side note: I’m reminded of all the brou-ha-ha about “fake geek girls” who come to cons just to “make fun of nerds.”  Well, this was the first time I’d had the sucktastic experience of encountering someone doing that for real, and guess what?  IT WAS A GUY. A WHITE GUY.  (Apparently, his WIFE is the one actually working at Comic Con, and that’s why he goes down at all.  Because he gets in for free.  When I think of all the people who didn’t get badges . . .))

By the way, asshole?  Because of your lengthy phone conversation—oh, conversations, plural, you’re on the phone again, to your wife this time—I now know what you do for a living, the name of your website, where your wife works, the names of several of your friends, and all about your hotel and dinner reservations.  Since you’re so concerned with your goddamn SEO, I’m sorely tempted to give you bad reviews all over the fucking Internet.  Or google bomb your sad excuse for a business venture with something obscene.  (Yes, I looked it up while sitting here on the train.  Eighteen Twitter followers?  No wonder you’re paying someone $3,000-4,000 just for social media SEO.)  You know, you may hold us nerds in contempt and make fun of our[1] costumes, but geek rage is not to be trifled with.

I hope you had a terrible time at the con, and that your business ventures all go down in the brilliant flames of karma.  I also hope someone fucking credential-checked you.  (Probably not.  The credential-checking fucktards likely saved their holy gatekeeping for my hot female nerd friends who have entire bookshelves full of comic books at home.)

I’m sorry you live in my city.  LA’s too small for both of us.

With great sincerity,

SL Huang

  1. I say “our,” but I wish I were cool enough to be a cosplayer.