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

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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Freudian Friday: A Good Villain

First order of business — to those of you who get email updates, I sincerely apologize for publishing earlier this morning my idea for a blog post: writing a good story without a villain. Call it a preview of coming attractions. (And also picture me smacking myself on the forehead repeatedly. Doh!)

Second order of business — I’m still looking for guest posts to run in mid-June when I’m away getting married and stuff. So, if you’re reading this, let me know if you’d like to see your own content here. I will owe you cookies and/or a future guest post.

On to Freudian Friday madness. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been talking a lot about difficulty connecting with a show or a book if it lacks a good villain.

That’s not quite the oxymoron it seems—villains are people, too, you know. They had parents (usually), birthday parties, first loves… and a really intriguing villain gives the audience glimpses of that past and the personality it created.

So if you’re looking to raise—I mean, write—a good villain, keep the following traits in mind:

1. Humor
Part of what makes Joss Whedon’s work so great is his love for a comedic villain. We’re rooting for our hero, sure, but the villain is just so damned funny we can’t help but like him a little, too. Take Captain Hammer. He’s a smarmy, self-involved jerk, sure, and apparently frightened of geese, but he’s frickin’ hilarious.

Who could resist that insincere smile?

Even though we’re rooting for Doctor Horrible, it’s hard not to love Captain Hammer—his fists are not the hammer, he doesn’t need tiny cue cards, and he’s played by Nathan Fillion. How could we not join his groupies?

(Note that extreme good looks didn’t make this list… but they certainly don’t hurt.)

2. Vulnerability
While we’re on Doctor Horrible, let’s talk about the man himself. He “has a PhD in Horribleness,” so, even though he’s our hero, we know he’s looking to become a Big Bad. But his other name is Billy, he wears slouchy-hoodies, he’s too scared to talk to his crush, and he’s played by Neil Patrick Harris: he just screams sensitive soul.

What a crazy random happenstance!

We also know, though, that he keep stalker-photos of his crush and feels wildly inadequate compared to his aforementioned nemesis, Captain Hammer. The fact that he’s vulnerable makes him likable, easy to relate to—he really is a good villain. It’s the exploitation of that tragic flaw that pushes him into the Evil League of Evil.

3. Real Concern for Something or Someone
I’ve mentioned before that I think Mayor Wilkins is an awesome villain. He’s got the humor, and his concern for Faith makes him vulnerable: it’s what enables Buffy to kill him. The Mayor’s love for Faith shows that he’s more than just an evil dude looking for ascension and life as a big snake-demon. He’s also a man with fatherly impulses, someone who wants to sponsor and protect young people.

Sure, he’s evil–but he’s also a family man.

We occasionally get to see him through Faith’s eyes as the only person who ever truly believed in her. And that makes him far more interesting than a villain who only wishes to destroy everyone he touches.

4. A Little Bit of Crazy
One of my personal favorite Buffy villains is Glory, the exiled Hell-God who wants to kill Buffy’s sister Dawn and use her magical Key energy to open the doors back to home-hell. As a god, Glory operates on a completely different plane than the human characters, and Her Sparkling Luminescence is completely batshit crazy. One of her powers is draining humans of their sanity, turning them into some kind of sleeper-agent mindless zombies who eventually activate to do her bidding.

The Most Unstable One claims sanity from nice people like Tara.

Her madness makes her alien, and she’s more frightening because of it. Someone who neither understands nor cares about our “rules” and works completely outside of them is more difficult to beat—and more outrageous to watch.

5. Belief They Are Doing Right
Finally, a convincing, near-likable villain believes she is doing right. While I could talk about Marnie/Antonia from True Blood or the Lord Ruler from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, let’s stick with the Joss Whedon theme, and get Willow into the mix. No, she’s not a true villain, rather more of an antagonist (which nebulous difference I won’t get into), but she is a Big Bad at one point, with an endgame first of vengeance and then of destroying the world.

Big scary veins aren’t a good look for anyone.

Willow turns evil because she wants to avenge Tara’s murder, and she’s driven to destroy the world because she can’t stand the pain that fills it. Dark Willow has a point: the world is a terrible place, especially in the Buffyverse, and sometimes it does seem like a supervillain would be justified in destroying it all and starting over from scratch. We feel for Willow, even as we’re rooting for Xander to stop her. A goal we can understand makes a villain reasonable, and makes the hero’s triumph more difficult and more bittersweet.

What do you think makes a good villain, readers?

Why Don’t I Like Angel?

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge Buffy fan.

Obsessed might be the better word for it.

I didn’t grow up on the show, which, incidentally, started airing when I was 12. I only discovered it about two and a half years ago, after my love of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Firefly convinced me to give Joss Whedon’s girl-superhero a try. (Patrick Rothfuss’s love letter to Joss Whedon didn’t hurt, either.)

Now, I’ve watched the show through more than a few times, I’m reading the Season 8 graphic novels, and I’ve seriously considered having a husband-and-wife dance at my wedding to this heinously inappropriate song:

(May the Piracy Furies decline to smite me for embedding this video.)

So you would think I’d be all over Angel. But we’ve tried watching it, and haven’t gotten further than the first episodes of season 2. So why don’t I like Angel?

1. The show’s premise isn’t all that great. Brooding vampire goes to L.A. to fight evil in his quest for redemption? Okay, well, when I put it like that, it does sound interesting. Trouble is, it just leads to Angel saving young women and/or children in every other episode. We frequently get to say, “Tonight, on a very special Angel…” as they treat topics like drugs, gangs, and single parenthood. It’s just… too earnest.

2. Individual episodes aren’t that gripping. If I find I’m looking at my blog stats or surfing Facebook while I’m watching a show, I know it’s just not doing it for me. I actually started writing this blog post last Friday when we were attempting to give the show another shot. Too many episodes are “monster of the week,” but those monsters don’t get me biting my nails. Which leads us to…

3. The villain is too ambiguous. One of the great things about Buffy is that every season has a real, visible villain, someone we can see and hate (and/or think is kinda awesome, like Mayor Wilkins). The fight is present in almost every episode. But Angel (at least so far) doesn’t have this. A law firm just doesn’t get my love-to-hate juices flowing.

4. The characters don’t inspire much love. I never cared much for Doyle, and then he just disappeared. And Cordelia got his power through a kiss? Um, weak plot device, guys. Wesley is the goofy sidekick, and Cordelia is the “pretty face with an empty heart” who has room to grow—and there just hasn’t been much development of either. But it’s not just the sidekicks. Angel himself is too brooding (though David Boreanaz does portray his whimsical side with great glee), and I don’t feel compelled by his quest for redemption. He chooses to be miserable, which does not make me feel sorrowful on his behalf.

5. I hate Darla. I hate her voice, I hate her attitude, I hate her outfits, I hate her face, I hate her anachronistic American accent in the vampires’ deep past, I hate every single thing about her. I. Hate. Darla. And yet she’s a major player in season 2—and, I’m told, several seasons thereafter—which is almost enough to drive me completely away from the show.

At this stage, I’m limping along through Angel because I feel like I should watch it. I want that added facet of the Buffy-verse. But… is that “should” enough to overcome my dislike?

Can you convince me to like or at least keep watching Angel? Give it your best shot.