Let Women Speak for Women: How John Scalzi Pissed Me Off

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About a month ago, Seanan McGuire (of October Daye fame) wrote a kickass blog post about things she will never, ever do to her characters. She wrote about why she will never write a sexual assault in her novels and how disappointing it is that certain subsets of her readership might expect that to happen. It made the internet rounds, it circulated over Twitter, and it probably even percolated into the Reddit circle of hell.

But, to my knowledge, it didn’t reach the upper stratosphere of male SFF novelist bloggers.

On Friday, Patrick Rothuss shared on Facebook a blog post by John Scalzi called “A Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians.” The essay is a sort of Swiftian satire written from the perspective of a rapist writing to the politicians:

Every time you say ‘I oppose a woman’s right to abortion, even in cases of rape,’ what you’re also saying is ‘I believe that a man who rapes a woman has more of a right to control a woman’s body and life than that woman does.’

It really boils down to that: these wealthy white politicians are saying that ANY man, from rapists to men in power have the right to control women’s lives and bodies. And those man get off on that knowledge.

It’s true. It’s totally true. But by writing this post from this perspective, Scalzi takes control of an issue that belongs almost exclusively to women. He is using his louder megaphone, as a internet-powerful guy, to speak on our behalf.

He’s not alone. Joss Whedon is extolled far and wide as a great feminist, but his strong female characters are inevitably subject to rape and abuse. (*coughBuffyandSpikecough*). And I love Rothfuss for writing strong female characters, but I didn’t see him sharing—or even noticing—Seanan McGuire’s post on a similar topic.

Don’t get me wrong. If I ever meet Scalzi, I’ll give him a high five and buy him a beer. If I meet Rothfuss, I’ll squee and give him hugs. If I meet Whedon, I’ll faint dead away.

But here’s what rubs me the wrong way: in spite of their best intentions, they’re perpetuating the problem.

Scalzi, Rothfuss, and Whedon are—right now—wealthy(ish) white men writing about problems only women face. They are exhibiting the male control they castigate by fighting our fight. I’m not ungrateful, but I’m frustrated that the strongest plays in the feminist fight are coming from men… and even these men don’t seem interested in what women have to say.

They’re taking away our right to fight the good fight.

When women write these posts, they’re quietly applauded, loudly criticized, or just ignored as regurgitating feminist vitriol. So when men like Scalzi step up to the plate, we praise them high and low, and the merits of their argument ring across the internet.

All because they have the lucky position of being a privileged white man writing on behalf of women.

“That’s awesome,” we say, “that they’re using their power to defend women’s rights.”

And it IS. IT IS.

But shouldn’t we women be fighting our own corner? Shouldn’t we be writing the satire? Shouldn’t posts like Seanan McGuire’s be shared all across Facebook and Tweeted with the vengeance of a hundred thousand little blue birds? Shouldn’t one powerful woman be sharing the post of another powerful woman and starting the discussion that way? Instead, I, a woman, found wrote through the internet-fu of one man a post written by another man.

Lots of women write about this issue. I’ve written about feminist woes in fantasy, my friend Emmie Mears has written about women in fantasy and rape issues; but of course, we’re not famous (yet). Yet Seanan McGuire’s series is highly successful, and the male writers talking about feminism and women’s rights don’t even seem to pick up on what she has to say. They’d rather listen to themselves rant and then congratulate each other on their own feminist virtues.

It’s maddening.

Let’s change this. Let’s share the posts that women write. Let Scalzi host a woman on his popular blog. Let Whedon write a female character who never falls prey to violence from a man. Let’s hear from Jane Espenson on the topic. Let’s take back our own goddamned fight and make our own arguments. We don’t need rich white men taking away our rights or trying to give them back to us.

What do you think, readers? Do you think these men should stop trying to ‘save’ women, or do you like having a champion?

Image via HuffingtonPost.com

edit: 8 p.m. EDT
Well, the name calling and threats have started in the moderation queue. We’ve all had our fun, but I think it’s time we take a breather. I’m turning the comments off for the evening.

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46 thoughts on “Let Women Speak for Women: How John Scalzi Pissed Me Off

  1. Interesting, and I agree (here comes the) but…. We are stronger when we speak together in one voice. Also it is a measure of self-protection on the part of us men to say, “Nay, I shan’t support such swine! I shall decry them from our high places for this is most just!”

    Then there is the issue of rape itself when it comes to men and women, mainly that it is not an exclusively female issue (abortion is, but rape is not). It is so insidious that when a woman is raped, she remains a woman, a damaged one (in the eyes of society) but still a woman, which reinforces the hideous idea that rape is a “woman’s lot in life”. But when a man is raped (and it happens far more often than we like to admit) he stops being man. His manhood is stripped from him. And yet it still used as comedic element (women raping is okay or men raping other men is funny).

    I think it is time to look at rape for the demolishing act its, the expectations around it and what we need to stop it.

    It also behooves us to lift our voices rather than see who shouts the loudest.

    • Kristin McFarland

      Eh, sometimes we young farts have chew over the same old bones. And you’re completely right: I’m glad to see the shouting, truly. I hope I didn’t come off as too terribly bitter!

      Great link, btw. Jemisin has some great stuff to say!

      • No, you didn’t come across as bitter. I guess I’m just weary of it all. I truly wish folks would see past gender, but I fear that will never be – or, at least, not in my lifetime. But, we gotta have hope, and never stop shouting.

        Very brave of you to stand on your soapbox, by the way. I’m applauding. :)

  2. “Let Scalzi host a woman on his popular blog.”

    Well, this post on trans-vaginal abortion:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/03/20/guest-post-a-doctor-on-transvaginal-ultrasounds/

    was written by a woman, who asked to borrow my platform, and I was happy to lend it for the purpose. The piece was, when it ran, the most-visited piece that my site had since at least 2008, and it was picked up by Jezebel, which gave it additional exposure.

    Likewise, I occasionally take hiatuses, and when I do I have guest bloggers on the site, who I encourage to write about any thing they care to write about. The last time I went on hiatus, for six weeks, three of those guest bloggers were women: Kate Baker, Mary Robinette Kowal and N.K. Jemisin.

    Aside from that, I have a feature on the site called “The Big Idea,” in which I let writers talk about the big idea behind their books. This year to date 37 women have presented big idea pieces on my site, and their discussions of their books often touch on issues relating to women specifically.

    This is neither here nor there to your larger point, but as it relates specifically to your suggestion for me, I thought you might want to know my track record in this regard.

    – JS

    • Kristin McFarland

      You do have great content, I’ll admit that wholeheartedly. Your post on straight white male entitlement was brilliant. And I definitely owe you a beer.

      The irony is not lost on me that I felt supremely validated by your comment on this post. *headdesk*

      I could get belligerent and talk about how your privilege as SWM allows you to write what you write, or I could rant on about the injustice that is men writing some of the best content on these topics. But I’m not feeling particularly belligerent this afternoon, so I’ll just say that I only picked on you BECAUSE you write good content that stirs people up, and that’s what we need. It’s so frustrating that you have to be a dude. But I totally forgive you.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing the link!

    • Kristin McFarland

      Awesome post! Thanks for sharing that link.

      You’re right — we should fight together. My rant here is just one tiny piece of an ongoing battle. And I do like Scalzi’s posts — I DO — but just once I’d like to see the internet really explode over what a woman wrote.

      • C.L. Holland

        The internet does explode over what women write. Usually with rape and death threats that male writers wouldn’t be the target of.

          • rocketboy001

            I would say “touche” but by way of reading the comments I can see that I’m not the only one that thinks this post is telling men to shut up about these issues because they are men. So it does not seem that I’m taking anything out of context.

  3. Shauna Granger

    I appreciated all of the posts you’ve mentioned, but you’re right; it’s sad we don’t get as much attention for saying the same things as these men do.

  4. Honestly, I appreciate anybody throwing their hat into the ring. Should women’s voices get the same attention a man’s does? Sure. But I don’t particularly like the idea that just because someone is white/male/straight that they have less of a voice when it comes to racism/sexism/homophobia. We’re back to the idea of only certain groups being able to speak on issues, but the reality is that these values ought to be universal.

    Also I really have much problem with the attention Scalzi’s post got, because that man’s written a LOT of books. He’s earned his reach ;)

  5. Mrs Arkban

    Just FYI – I found this post cause I follow John Scalzi on Twitter and he tweeted a link.

    I am a woman and it is frustrating to say something and not get the same acknowledgement as would a man for saying the same thing.

    That said, I think when we’re dealing with issues like rape, poverty, health insurance, education etc, it doesn’t matter who speaks up. Technically these issues affect only certain groups, but from my perspective, they affect any human being. If I’m well off, does that mean I shouldn’t speak on behalf of the poor? If I have health insurance, does that mean I shouldn’t speak on behalf of those who don’t? If I go to a great private school, does that mean I shouldn’t speak on behalf of those who don’t have access to a good education? We’re all people and we should look out for each other.

  6. Russ

    You’re wrong to suggest this isn’t everyone’s fight. I have a mom, a wife, and a daughter and I owe them my best efforts; stand and be counted and all that. I don’t think I’m going to agree to to sit quietly, hands folded, while waiting for you to figure out what, if anything, you’ll consent for us to do, nor can I say I’m terribly interested in anyone’s gender or racial litmus test on this subject. There is a real fight to be won against these neanderthals and, frustrating though it might be, we are allies to the bitter end. As for Scalzi, I for one just want to say thanks.

    • Kristin McFarland

      I don’t think I did suggest it isn’t everyone’s fight. But shouldn’t women have the same voice in the argument that men do? We can’t ignore the argument from the people who stand to lose the most — in fact we should be listening for those voices specifically.

      This isn’t about gender politics or identity politics in any way. It’s about letting those who have stakes in the argument have just as much say as anyone else.

      • Russ

        If I mistook your resentment on the matter, then I apologize. The phrases “wealthy white man” and “priviledged white man” were repeated often enough in your article to suggest those of us guilty as charged should sit and be quiet. Assuming I have a choice, I place “Dad” and “Husband” on a par with the rest of the labels affixed to my backside, which is why I interrupted your day. What you have to say matters, and if I didn’t make that point sufficiently by haranging a complete stranger, then let me do so now.

        Of course women should have the same voice; why do you feel they don’t? Because conservatives haven’t yet changed their mind on these topics? Not wishing to oversimplify, but that’s kind of the point to conservatism, no matter what color the politican happens to be. As for whether Scalzi’s voice should carry further than yours or whoever you feel should be bearing the standard, I can only say that it does – but not nearly far enough. Your voice is a compelling one, to be sure, and the passion is evident. If the neanderthals aren’t taking sufficient notice, and they aren’t, then I strongly suspect you know what to do about it.

  7. You wrote, “What do you think, readers? Do you think these men should stop trying to ‘save’ women, or do you like having a champion?” I say that’s a completely false argument, along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?”

    I don’t think John Scalzi is trying to save women; I think he wrote a powerful piece of satire from a unique perspective expressing his point of view.

    I didn’t like it because I “like having a champion.” I liked it because it was unique and powerful. Just as I liked this open letter from the Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop: http://www.marciamountshoop.com/2012/10/25/an-open-letter-to-politicians-about-rape/

    I posted links to both on my blog.

    This is not a zero-sum game. When a man posts on this issue, it does not take away from my ability to post on this issue. I’m not going to avoid linking to a powerful piece of argument because it was written by a man. I refuse to limit my rhetorical arsenal based on gender.

    • Crystal

      Totally agree with this perspective. Having a man write a powerful pro-woman piece does nothing to harm a woman’s ability to do the same thing. John Scalzi has reach, and kudos to him for using it.

      • Kristin McFarland

        I agree that it doesn’t do anything to harm a woman’s ability, but by the same token, Scalzi could have accomplished both his own commentary and promoted your Rev. Shoop at the same time.

        I don’t like harping on him, since he’s a genuinely nice guy ( as I tried to emphasize above ) but if you’re talking about women’s rights, you should try to remember to include women. Plus he tweeted me! Yay.

  8. If the central point in your post seemed to be, “We should work together to make sure women’s words on rape and abortion get as much traction as men’s words do,” I would wholeheartedly agree.

    But instead the central point is that men shouldn’t be fighting on behalf of women. I disagree. This isn’t just women’s fight. It’s everyone’s fight. Yes, most rapes target women (and women are the only people who would seek abortion after a rape). But men have wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. Men also need to hold other men accountable for their actions and their attitudes. Saying that women are the only people who should be fighting against rape and for access to abortion excludes men and transgendered people from a fight there’s no reason to exclude them from other than a principle that seems misguided to me.

    We can’t vote these men out of office if women are the only ones who are eligible to participate. We can’t pass new legislation if women are the only ones allowed to take a stand. How can men become interested in and enlightened about these issues if women don’t encourage them to?

    This is not about women needing to fight for themselves. It’s about everyone needing to fight together.

    • Kristin McFarland

      Oh, I don’t think I said that men shouldn’t be involved. In fact, I said repeatedly that I enjoy Scalzi’s content, and all the content. But I find it incredibly frustrating that we women have to be grateful and admiring to the men who are making the argument for us, when there are plenty of women who are doing the same.

      Yes, let’s all fight together, by all means. But first, we need to give the women’s arguments the same traction we give the men’s.

  9. Jo Leigh

    I can’t agree. I believe every voice will be heard differently, and I would encourage everyone to stand up and be counted in whatever way they can. I’m not gay, but I do talk about gay rights in my blog, and tumblr and twitter. My voice is tiny, but I believe my light, when added to the collective light, matters. So should it be with the issues of body control. It’s a human problem. The shouting should be so loud it shakes the heavens.

  10. Julia

    Nobody asked John Scalzi to write about this. It’s not like there’s a Board of Enquiry that steps up when there’s a hot topic and forces people to editorialize. He did it for the same reason he wrote about white male privilege – because he wanted to, and he had something to say. And the post got shared a bazillion times because – and this is just my guess – he’s got more fans and followers on the Internet than Ms. McGuire. It’s a simple question of popularity. Now the question of WHY male writers are so much more popular than female writers is a whole other topic. However, Scalzi has worked extremely hard at being popular. It’s just a happy accident that he’s also really good. And the post is also really good, which is why it was shared in the first place. There doesn’t seem to be any harm in popular male writers saying, “Enough with this crap already. I’m in the demographic that shouldn’t care and look! I DO CARE.”

    What’s kind of hilarious about this is that the one woman you’ve decided you want to hear from is Jane Espenson. First of all, as if you could demand that everybody have something to say on this. And secondly, Jane Espenson is a pretty lazy default. “Hey, there appears to be only one woman in ALL OF FILM AND TELEVISION GEEKERY. Let’s ask her!” It’s disappointing, and more than a little offensive, when women perpetuate that nonsense. And it’s SEVERELY disappointing when women in genre seem to not know the names of any other women in genre. Does everyone REALLY only know Jane Espenson and Marti Noxon? Come on. Don’t be ridiculous. And I should care about Jane Espenson’s opinion because she’s a woman? Seriously?

    I’m substantially more infuriated that there are male lawmakers discussing this as if women don’t have a say. Isn’t that the real fight?

  11. James

    Why not have it be that BOTH women and men speak out. As a gay man I want as many heterosexuals as possible speaking out for equality and justice. If it were gay voices only, then nothing would change.

  12. Yes I agree with some precious commenters. I don’t have an issue with men who get it writing about rape and women’s rights. I don’t see it as them championing me. I do have a problem with men’s voices being heard and shared more, but that is the fault of a patriarchal society, not the fault of individual men. I wish MORE men spoke up in defense of women’s rights. The silence of men around issues like rape and abuse allow rape culture to flourish unfettered.

  13. rocketboy001

    This is why I never go near this topic publicly. As a man no matter what I say, no matter how supportive I am of women’s rights, I’d be criticized. It’s not that I personally mind criticism but with this topic you can’t win no matter what side you on.

    Case in point – this post. You spent the whole time criticizing people who are supportive of your rights.

    Insanity.

    • Miche

      So you’re not going to say anything because people might be mean to you? Okay, that’s your choice.

      Women who talk about these issues on the Internet are subject to incredible abuse, including rape threats and death threats. And before you say they’re idle threats, some of them are not.

      • rocketboy001

        That’s not what I’m saying at all. In fact I specifically pointed out that it’s not that I’m bothered by criticism. It does bother me when people take what I said out of context to prove their non-point.

        This post is dedicated to lambasting people who support women’s rights for the sole reason that those people supporting women’s rights are men.

          • rocketboy001

            Seems that this got posted on a thread above instead of this one:

            I would say “touche” but by way of reading the comments I can see that I’m not the only one that thinks this post is telling men to shut up about these issues because they are men. So it does not seem that I’m taking anything out of context.

  14. C.L. Holland

    So it’s not actually Scalzi who pissed you off then, its the fact that his shout got heard because of inherent privilege?

    Personally I think if he wants to use that privilege on behalf of those who don’t have it, good on him. There are enough people with it abusing it right now, after all.

  15. I read the various things you linked. You’re missing one important factor. Scalzi’s post was really creative and took an interesting angle on getting the point across. The other posts are just more of the same stuff I read all the time. One of the basic rules of getting attention for your work is make it unique. I’ll remember his post and many parts of it for years. The rest, not likely in a month. Not because he’s a man, but because his was just simply better at getting the job done.

    So instead of trying to add yet another layer of guilt while you alienate some of your allies, your efforts might be better spent filling the screen with something creative.

    I hope people start to realize that as effective as complaining and marching and ‘raising awareness’ is in the start of a battle, it’ll only get so far until it starts to backfire and becomes a tool the enemy can use to dismiss your efforts.

    And the saddest part about all this is your title. I read it and thought “What is she talking about? Women CAN speak for women. What country does she think she lives in?” There’s nothing interfering with that here. Please make the most of it.

  16. My two cents (came here from your tweet, btw). I don’t need a champion. I’m not in need of saving by, well, anyone. What I could use are more voices of reason and logic and calm reality in this fight. I’ve been fighting this fight for a long time – from all the little slights that are energy sapping because really, do I have to explain why I am not going to fetch you coffee just because I have a uterus – again? To the bigger, uglier slanders that knock you to your knees because you can’t believe what you just heard, experienced, or witnessed. It is akin to saying that the Civil Rights movement was somehow cheapened when white students marched in solidarity with blacks.

    To be honest, legislation about rape, about contraception, about women’s rights across the board is far more than being solely about women. It is about the society where those issues live. So I don’t mind another voice in the chorus, I don’t mind another person taking up arms to fight along side me and all the other women who fought before me or who will fight long after me. And at the moment, we are fighting an insidious fight – one against the seemingly smaller sins of being female. The ones that make us squidgy. Ones that really pretty moral strawmen can be built from, ones that can be used to make us feel ashamed, smaller, guilty. Shining light into those dark places requires an army, so if Mr. Scalzi or any other man wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with me – not stand in front of me to shield me from harm, or behind me to catch me should I swoon – I am happy to make room, because he who does so is not my savior but a fellow warrior.

    • Karl johanson

      “…sholder to sholder…” as apposed to “…in front of me to shield me from harm…” Very well said.

  17. Karl johanson

    Weddon & Scalzi are letting women speak for women. They’re just speaking as well. If your point is, “I want men to shut up on these issues,” just say that.

  18. I read this post because Scalzi pointed to it on Twitter. That introduced me to McGuire’s post, which I had not read before (because I don’t follow her outside of her work, because I generally dislike LJ, and because I don’t like her work). But I wanted to understand your premise, so I immediately read McGuire’s post. And I found it less than “kickass.” It’s a good post about how one author chooses to not write particular kinds of scenes, and subject her characters to sexual abuse. I applaud that. But since I’m not a fan of McGuire’s work, it wasn’t a post that seemed likely to affect me. Knowing that [character I don't know] won’t be getting raped isn’t any more likely to get me to pick up the next McGuire or Grant novel. For a post that discusses low-stakes decisions (McGuire’s authorial choices), it’s good, but if one, like me, isn’t invested in her career, about all it can elicit is “Oh, that’s nice. Good choice.”

    Scalzi is not writing about low-stakes decisions. I don’t need to defend him; he’s far more capable of that than I should the need arise.

    There’s a world of difference between the subjects McGuire and Scalzi write about. A real world’s worth of difference.

    You said above in the comments:

    “But I find it incredibly frustrating that we women have to be grateful and admiring to the men who are making the argument for us, when there are plenty of women who are doing the same.”

    McGuire is not doing the same thing as Scalzi. She’s talking about making rape not happen in (literally) her fantasy world. Scalzi is talking about rape and abuse happening to real women. I’m not surprised that the better written post about the real world got more traction. In my opinion, your failure to differentiate between the spheres the two writers were working in is a fatal flaw in your argument.

    It’s true that McGuire’s post didn’t get the reach that Scalzi’s did, but then he’s WAY more popular and successful than she is, and has been working longer. You may think that is inherently unfair, but it’s the truth on the ground.

  19. One of the biggest problems right now is that the conversation that seems to matter is being held by men. The politicians, if you will, are the ones talking in the public eye and they are the ones with the power to change the laws, etc.

    They aren’t listening, and apparently haven’t ever listened, to women’s voices about these issues. What they seem to need is a male voice, speaking in a language and a tenor that they are more comfortable with, to get the truth through their thick skulls.

    That’s the biggest takeaway I had from Scalzi’s post- it was written in such a manner that these MEN would be able to understand the issue in a way that it seems that haven’t quite grasped in the past.

    I think there are a lot of men (not all) who just can’t hear what women are saying. They write us off very quickly as overly emotional, blowing things out of proportion all the time.

    But when the problem is presented in Scalzi’s unique way, I think a lot of those same guys might be able to finally HEAR what the problem is and understand why it’s so important to fight the good fight.

    Is it fair? No. But it is, at this point in time, necessary. I don’t think we should stop fighting to have female voices be just as loud and just as heard, but I think railing against the attention that these men are getting doesn’t do anything positive for us, and can in fact hurt the cause when we look bitter and angry about those who choose to be our allies.

    I would also mention, women are not the only people who are raped. It’s hard to know numbers of male rape victims because as low as female rape reporting is, male rape is reported even less. But they are out there and they deserve just as much help and respect as all the female victims.

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