seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
A few months ago now, I made a trip to my local Half-Price Books and found one of my favorite re-reads in a shiny new paperback. Oh, the joy of finding an out-of-print book for a reasonable cost! Oh, the glee of having a fresh copy for the loaner shelf! (I passionately adore a bunch of 1980s science fiction that isn't widely available, and often thrust it on people.) I snapped it up.

When I got home, I commented on Twitter that I'd found the book, and @-checked the author, who I thought might be pleased by my delight. It's nice when someone reads something I realized a while ago, and my clock only goes back 2009 (unless you have some of the ElfQuest 'zines I did in high school). The author, someone I have adored since middle school, responded.

"Trigger warning: dangerous ideas."

I sat there for a little while, stunned.

I am simultaneously very sensitive and very thick-skinned. Most of the people I know are. There are things that lance right past my armor and knock me on my ass, and then there are things that I can take for a long time. In the third category are the things I just need to be warned about, so I can choose whether I'm in the mood to deal with them. But here's the thing:

Most stories come with their own trigger warnings. They just aren't called out blatantly as such.

When I pick up a Jack Ketchum book, there will be language on the back about "horrible things" and "terrible crimes" and other coded comments that don't come right out and say "this book has rape in it," but which absolutely say that to someone who has been reading in the genre for a little while. And when I was getting started in the horror genre, I was largely operating on recommendations from friends and librarians--people who would say, when they handed me something, "this may be disturbing." They called out the things that might make the book difficult to read.

Movies are rated. PG, PG-13, R. I've seen a screenshot of a Facebook post going around recently, with a mother saying they had to leave Deadpool with their nine year old, and "why don't we have a labeling system?" Well, we do. It's called "this movie had an R rating." But R-rated movies get edited for television, and we don't think about that when we ask ourselves whether Little Bee enjoyed that film. "Oh, they've seen _________, and it was rated R, so they're ready for Deadpool." Movies get rated R for different reasons. Maybe it's language, maybe it's sex, maybe it's violence. When I was a kid, I tended to just tune out sex: you could take me to a lot of movies rated R for sexy innuendo and mild nudity, and I'd just be bored. But violence could still scare me.

(Note that this is "rated R," not "rated XXX." The fact that I saw a lot of boobies as a kid does not mean I was ready for a bunch of actual porn.)

Video games are rated. T for Teen, M for Mature. Yet everyone I know who works at a video game store has had the angry parent demanding to know why their kids have violent video games. Be...cause...someone didn't want to look at the ratings? Which are also, in some ways, the trigger warnings? Look at what's listed after a rating: those are the triggers. Maybe they're not intended for the person actually consuming the media, but once they're there, they're for everybody. I know people who only play T games, because they got tired of the casual misogyny and violence of M games. Why is that bad?

In the case of books, you're less likely to have a direct rating or label (although Angry Robot does a decent job). At the same time, if the back cover text is halfway decent, you should know what you're getting into. And yes, I am angry when a book promises me one thing and gives me something else. It's not a fun surprise, especially when the "something else" is a nice big bucket of rape and murder.

People who say they want trigger warnings are not necessarily asking to be coddled. They're asking for warning. They're asking for the courtesy that good fanfic writers afford to their readers. They're asking to be allowed to relax into the story. But saying "trigger warning: dangerous ideas" doesn't help anyone. My not wanting to read romanticized, eroticized rape in the middle of my zombie fiction doesn't mean I don't want to read exciting, complex, interesting books; saying that your book is just as triggering as something about child abuse or rape or graphic animal death does a disservice to both your work and your readers.

It can go too far: anything can go too far. I met a reader who told me that they refuse to read any books which include descriptions of food that they are allergic to, and that there should be food trigger warnings (I'm still not sure whether they were trolling me, but they seemed serious). If my book is called Spider Attack, I shouldn't need to warn people about the spiders. But common sense still gets to come to the party.

I have rarely felt so dismissed or talked down to by an author I admired, especially since I had not said or done anything to indicate that I was seeking a trigger warning; I had actually referenced reading the book before. It was a failure of kindness.

We have got to be kinder.
seanan_mcguire: (zombie) currently in France (la la!), and on pretty crappy wireless. All email bounces through her, thanks to The Great Profanity Storm of 2012, which means that some things may have gotten lost. Specifically, the emails from two of our ARC winners have not been received.

Jill, we have yours; if you are one of our other two winners, please re-send your mailing address via the website contact form ASAP.

Cranky blonde is cranky with the world, not with any of you (or with Kate).
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
I want to start by saying that when it comes to movies about dinosaurs eating people, I am so the target audience that they would still make a profit even if I was the only one who wanted to see it happen. It might take a little longer—one blonde does not a multi-million dollar opening make—but they'd get there, given time. My number of lifetime viewings of Jurassic Park passed the double digits before I turned twenty (and it was much harder to re-watch things when I was a teenager, on account of I am older than DVD or streaming video). My number of lifetime readings of the book and its sequel is much higher. I've seen Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III about five times each, which is more than any sensible person should.

Why am I giving you my dinosaur geek cred? Because I want to be clear that when Jurassic World was announced, I was one hundred and seventy percent on-fucking-board. I was there. Literally the only thing that kept me from the first showing on Thursday night was the fact that I had dental surgery Thursday morning, and did not understand how hands worked. When I saw the first trailer, I cried. I am not ashamed of that. I have been going to Jurassic Park for my entire adult life, and yeah, if they announced the opening of the Isla Sorna location tomorrow, I'd sell a kidney if that was what it took to get me there. Bets have been taken as to whether I will one day walk down the aisle to the Jurassic Park theme.

(I probably won't. But let's face it, a dinosaur-themed wedding would be pretty fucking sweet.)

But there was one thing that made me a little...let's go with "nervous" even during trailers, when I was shushing people who tried to talk to me during my special dinosaur time. And that was the fact that you had Bryce Dallas Howard's lovely Claire—and "lovely" is a necessary qualifier for a woman who's wearing solid white and high heels and putting that much effort into straightening her hair in Costa Rica—but that was, well. About it for humans of the female persuasion. (In the JP canon, most if not all dinosaurs you encounter will be female, due to the cloning process that makes them. This does not actually count as having gender balance. Honest.)

Wasn't going to stop me from going. After all, Jurassic Park III had lousy gender balance, with only Amanda and Ellie really keeping up the side, and it's generally regarded as the worst of the original three. Surely the filmmakers would look at that and say "Yeah, little girls found their way into the franchise through Lex as a viewpoint and Ellie as an aspiration, just like little boys had the combo of Tim and Alan! Let's make sure we keep everyone at the party!" Part of my passion for this franchise comes from the fact that when I was a little girl, Jurassic Park was actually willing to invite me in. Surely the trailers were leaving something out.

They weren't.

Because while most of these spoilers are from the trailers, it's also polite not to spoil. )
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
To the woman who made nasty comments about my "turning radius" when I had to move my electric scooter in front of Big Thunder Mountain; to the person who let their children sit on the ground with their hands pressed against my wheels, and scowled when I said this wasn't safe; to the people who stood on curb cuts and glared when asked, politely, if they would let me pass; to the man who snickered and murmured about lazy bitches when I drove by at Typhoon Lagoon; to everyone who sighed and rolled their eyes when a bus had to be lowered to load me on:

I do not wish you my experience. I do not wish you injury or handicap, however temporary. I do not wish you pain. I do not wish you the soul-bruising frustration of being limited by a body that refuses to listen to your commands, or the salt in the wound that is knowing you did nothing to deserve this: that you didn't injure yourself running a marathon or rock-climbing, but instead fell prey to something that can strike anyone, at any time, for any reason. I do not wish you years spent sedentary, watching your friends rush by able-bodied and healthy, and struggling not to resent them for it.

Instead, I wish you empathy.

I wish for a future where you can look at someone using an assistance device, whether it be a cane, a wheelchair, or a motorized scooter, and think "isn't it wonderful how we live in a world where this person can have the same experiences I do."

I wish for a time where you can see someone using a motorized scooter to enjoy something as large as Disney World and think "isn't that person kind, to spare their friends and family the effort of pushing a manual wheelchair around this huge place, just so that they don't have to experience the nerve-racking stress of navigating something so large and potentially dangerous through a crowd."

I wish for a society where you can listen to simple, necessary requests and hear, not an inconvenience, but a leveling out of a certain small imbalance in the world.

I wish for a place where you can see a wheelchair user sitting to watch a parade and not think "great, let's stand in front of them, that's open space," but instead "isn't it lovely how we can all get a good view."

I am not asking for special privileges. I am not asking to go to the head of the line just because my left foot doesn't work sometimes.

All I am asking is to be allowed, unjudged and unresented, to join the line at all.

Thank you.
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
If you are a creative professional, it is a sad reality that self-promotion is a part of your job. Maybe that wasn't always true; maybe there was a time when you could emerge from your creative chambers, hand your latest piece of deathless art to your agent, and then retreat back into your office fastness to keep creating. But alas, we do not live in that possibly mythic world, and if you work in the arts, at all, you need to be willing to sell yourself to whatever degree, and in whatever manner, you are comfortable.

Maybe it's social media updates. Maybe it's occasional blog posts. Maybe it's setting up a mailing list. There are a lot of ways to do self-promotion, and since I consider sincerity to be the most important thing of all, there's really no wrong way. As long as you're comfortable and happy and not drowning in your update links, you're probably okay.

But here's the thing. There is a line between "self-promotion" and "spam," and while that line is usually pretty visible, it's also easy to cross, even without intending to. I schedule Current Projects posts; make Inchworm Girl posts once a week at max; and try to do sales announcements and convention announcements when it will have the greatest impact. It is thus possible—not likely, but possible—that all three of these things could happen on the same day. That would seem a little spammy, and take away from all three. It would also still be confined to my space, which you can read at your leisure, if you read it at all.

The same goes for Twitter. On and around book release day, I get very "OMG BOOK" for about, oh, 80% of my Tweets. I lose a few followers every time I have a book come out, since the rest of the time, my Twitter is very much "here are pictures of my cats and snarky comments about my doll collection." (Most of those followers come back again about a week later, when the book stuff dies down.) And that's fine! I am shouting and running around within my own space, they aren't interested, they go to the corner store for some milk and bread and come back when things are back to normal. This is all totally awesome.

The trouble, for me, comes when self-promotion begins going into other peoples' spaces without being invited. An example:

Last week I tweeted about how my sister is a nervous flier. Within twenty minutes I had received an unsolicited tweet from a retired commercial pilot who does not normally follow me, with a link to his book on calming fears of flying. Now, this may seem like he's just being helpful, but again, he does not follow me, and I did not ask for advice. This is a stranger who clearly has some standard searches coming across my comment and deciding that he can use it to profit.

I told him that what he was doing was spamming, and he asked why I was making such a fuss. The reason is simple: because he came into my space, without my asking him to, and tried to sell me something I had not asked for. He was spamming.

Something I see with much more frequency, although also on Twitter (and, in a modified form, on Facebook), is people @-checking random groups of authors/fans/whatever with "Hey, think about it, Soviet steampunk [link to book]." Again, this is not encouraging me to buy your book, or even to look at it. This is spamming.

It's different when you're doing it in your own space, or when you've been solicited. If I Tweet "What should I be reading?" and you give me a link to your awesome Shakespearean detective erotica, we're all good. If I click over to your feed and it's two-thirds self-promo, that's cool too. But once you come into my space, you'd best be sure you were invited. By the same token, if I'm coming into your space, I'd best be sure that I was invited.

Anything else is likely to turn my serious message into a piece of unwanted lunch meat.
seanan_mcguire: (pony)
I have just received the email from the shirt shop (like, today) letting me know that the Wicked Girls and My Story Is Not Done shirts are finished! Hooray! This means they should be hitting my doorstep right around, oh, Thanksgiving.

I am not mailing shirts on Thanksgiving.

If you need to update your mailing address, now is the time. I will aim to have the mailing party to get these out in early December. Once we hit the party, your shirt goes to the address we have on file. Because opening the boxes will expose their contents to cat hair, I am not doing any mailing before the party. So I will not crack open five boxes of shirts to find your shirt in specific. I am very sorry about this. I am not going to mail hair-encrusted shirts to all our allergic people just to make a deadline I didn't agree to. This particular batch has taken a long time. Some of that is my fault (two months in Europe); some of it is not (people not responding to email/sending in their payments). Regardless, we're moving right along.

When shirts do start going out, it will be in large batches, without tracking. Tracking was not calculated as part of the initial postage cost, and is not something I can afford to do, either money or time-wise. If you have a huge, specific concern, please contact the merch address; we may be able to arrange for you to pay extra and get a tracking number. This will automatically move your shirt to the back of the queue, as it will require additional time at the post office.

Also, this is the appropriate time to note that I will not be doing further bespoke shirt runs. We've been as upfront as we can throughout this process about the fact that it makes no money, and that all updates will be posted here. If you look back through the "people make things" tag, you'll see that I have regularly updated when there was something to say. This hasn't stopped people from using every avenue they could find to ask for updates. It hasn't stopped people from mailing Deborah over and over again. I understand the need to know what's going on, but honestly, I said "this is the situation," and people didn't listen. I can't do things like this if people don't want to follow the rules and listen to the updates. I'm so sorry that there will not be a fourth print run.

But let's end on a positive note: shirts soon! And they should be gorgeous. I am so excited.

Thank you.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
When I say "these are the rules for a giveaway," what I mean is "these are the rules for a giveaway," not "some of these rules are negotiable or can be ignored." If you do not follow the rules exactly as stated, you will not be eligible to win.

When I say "please use my contact form," what I mean is "please use my contact form." Not "please dig up a personal email that you have for me from some point in the past." Not "please use the contact form at" If I meant either of those things, I would say so. They would look like "you can only win if you already know how to reach me ha ha" and "please use the contact form at," respectively. If you do not use my contact form, at the website, you will not be eligible to receive your prize.

Sometimes the rules by which I live my life may seem fiddly or arbitrary, but there are always reasons. Please, if you want to receive something free from me, follow the rules which I have set for that reward.

Thank you.
seanan_mcguire: (average)
...I have no issues with pointing out typos, especially in the Velveteen stuff, which is quite long, but maybe you could also, you know, acknowledge liking the thing (assuming you did)? Otherwise it gets a little pointed and aggressive-feeling, and decreases the odds of getting another story.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
I spent much of the weekend looking in horror at the news, and at Twitter, and at everything else. A man murdered seven people and injured thirteen others before killing himself, explicitly because he couldn't get women to have sex with him. That's horrifying. That's upsetting and disgusting and wrong.

And then the people started saying "we'll never know why he did it," and I sort of lost my shit and had to go away for a few days.

He actually SAYS, IN SO MANY WORDS, that this is because he hates women. Because women will not give him the sex he so clearly deserves. Because "inferior men" are getting the women he should have. Because women have too much control (IE, the ability to say "no, I do not want to have sex with you"), and so the appropriate response is killing them to death.

But we'll never know why he did it.

A lot of people have said very good, sensible, logical things. Things that point out the power imbalance and the assumptions based on his apparent whiteness (he was half-Malaysian and half-Caucasian) and the fact that if someone shoots basically any other group of people on the planet, we're damn fast to accept that they did it because of hatred, but that when a man shoots a bunch of women, we'll look for any excuse but misogyny. I have not been able to say anything good, or sensible, or logical. Maybe I'll be able to in a week or two. But right now...

Right now, I look at the mounting number of incidents where "she wouldn't have the sex with me" has been used as an excuse for murder, and I'm just tired. That's all. I'm tired of the entitlement, and I'm tired of the assumptions, and I'm tired of the "not ALL men" response whenever someone says "misogyny kills."

I'm tired. No cookies today.
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
The ongoing discussion about diversity in fiction is, well, ongoing; that's sort of what ongoing discussions do. (Also, I have been neck-deep in edits for the past month, so the fact that I used "ongoing" three times in the prior sentence feels deliciously naughty.) On the one side, you have people saying "representation matters." On the other side, you have people saying that the urge for diversity in fiction is "selfie culture" (and somehow that's bad?), and that fiction should show us new things, not just be "a representative of the self," and that it's "jarring" when they encounter "minority characters" who don't somehow fit a list of cultural and social ticky-boxes that would justify those characters existing as anything other than straight, white, male. "Cis" doesn't even need to be spoken. There's no way a trans* character could exist for any reason other than to talk about their genitals, and that would be the ultimate in jarring, thanks.

And people wonder why I spend so much time wanting to set the world on fire.

I think it's very telling that the people who say it's wrong to want representation in fiction are almost overwhelmingly white. If I want to read about white people having amazing adventures and doing incredible things, being heroes and villains, simple and complicated, handsome and hideous, loved and hated, all I need to do is pick up a book at random. There is a literally 90% chance that I will get all those things from whatever book I've chosen, especially if I'm going for the "classic literature" of the science fiction/fantasy/horror world. 90%! And that may honestly be low-balling the number! If I were a straight white man, of course I wouldn't see any issue with representation in fiction—I'd be on every page I turned! Even as a straight white woman, I'd be on a lot of pages, even if half those pages would have me either naked or screaming (or both, if I had happened to grab a Gor book). There's no problem with representation here!

But I've never been a straight white man. I've never been a straight white girl, either. I was a bisexual kid with a lot of questions and not very many answers, and it wasn't until I encountered ElfQuest that I actually felt like I saw myself on a page. No, I didn't think I was an elf, although I sort of wished I was, because elves are awesome, but it was Cutter and Leetah and the rest who introduced me to the idea that I could love boys and girls, and not be a bad person. I wasn't indecisive or wicked. I just had a lot of love to give, and my set of criteria for who got it wasn't based on gender.

Let me restate that: I was already bi. I had already been attracted to girls, guys, and a kid in my class who went by "Pup" and refused to be pinned down to either gender (and my second grade teacher never forced Pup to commit either way, which was pretty damn cool of her, given that this was the 1980s). Books did not make me choose my sexuality; books told me a) that my sexuality existed, and b) that it was okay, it was natural, it was not proof that there was something wrong with me. And especially in grade school/middle school, sexuality is invisible in a way that very little else is. No one knew I was queer until I came out. It wasn't even a matter of openly hiding it; sex wasn't on the table, I didn't feel like sharing, I didn't share. No one knew that I was different. Everyone thought that when they read their books about little white girls having adventures, they were reading about me, too.

You know what's not invisible? Race. "I don't see race" is bull. When we read those books about little white kids having amazing adventures, we knew that it was white kids having adventures, because adventures are for white people. At the age of eight, we all understood that our non-white classmates were not represented in the books we read, and very few of us had the sophistication to jump to "this is a lack of representation." Instead, we jumped to "I guess Oz doesn't like black people." Because books shape your view of the world, books remake you in their image, and the books we had said little white kids go on adventures, little kids of any other race are nowhere to be seen.

This is a problem.

So some of us grew up, and for whatever reason—maybe it affected us directly, maybe it affected our friends, maybe it was just pointed out—we started trying to show a world that looked more like the world we actually lived in, where everything wasn't a monoculture. And for some reason, this is being taken as a threat. How dare you want little Asian kids to go on adventures. How dare you want queer teenagers to save the world. How dare you imply that transwomen can be perfectly ordinary, perfectly competent people who just want to not get eaten by the dinosaur that's been eating everyone else. That's selfie culture, that's diversity for the sake of diversity, that's wrong. And after a great deal of consideration, I have come to this conclusion:

If that's what you think, you can go fuck yourself.

That's not politic, and it's not nice, and it may cause a couple of people to go "what a bitch, I'm done," but I don't fucking care. Because I am tired of people needing to thank me for making an effort. I am tired of receiving email that says it was distracting when so-and-so turned out to be gay, or asking why I have Indian characters in three separate series (and the fact that having an Indian woman show up and never speak a line is apparently enough to put Indexing on the same level as Blackout for some people just makes me weep for humanity). I am tired of "oh you feel like you're so open-minded" because I write about gay people, bi people, poly people, people who are exactly like the people that I know. I want to be unremarkable for my casting choices, and only remarkable for my characters being awesome (because let's face it, my characters are awesome).

A lack of representation in fiction leads to a lack of self-esteem, because selfie culture is important: we need to see ourselves, and the people who keep trying to dismiss that as somehow selfish or greedy or narcissistic are the ones who've had a mirror held up to them for so long that they don't even see it anymore. White becomes so generic, so default, that it's not mentioned when describing a character ("blonde hair, blue eyes" vs. "oh, she's black, of course, that's the biggest thing"). Humanity is huge and diverse and amazing, and saying that only a small, approved sliver of it belongs in fiction is a dick move. If diversity is distracting, it's because it's so rare.

We can fix that.
seanan_mcguire: (zombie)
So the VMAs (Video Music Awards) happened last night, and Miley Cyrus did a thing. It was...well, it was not a good thing. She's making creative choices that I don't necessarily agree with or understand, and I sort of wish she'd put her tongue back into her mouth. But these are not my choices to make, and since the state of her career doesn't really impact me in any rational way, I will do my best not to criticize her beyond "I really liked it better when you were doing awesome country music, Miley, and I hope you'll get back to that, because I'd love an album with you and your godmother singing together."

As part of the thing that Miley did, however, she wound up grinding her backside (and, due to her position at the time, her genital region) against Robin Thicke's groin while wearing spanky pants made of what looked like flesh-colored vinyl. No one missed a beat when she did this, including Robin Thicke, so I have to assume that it was rehearsed, and was part of the plan for the performance. Again, still not a good thing, but she didn't start throwing in the over-the-top sexual stuff on a whim: MTV approved this. Her backup dancers learned this. Robin Thicke voluntarily did this.

I have now heard three separate people say something along the lines of "Robin Thicke's wife should slap the shit out of her," and "she should be ashamed." What I'm not seeing, though, are people saying the equivalent things about him. It appears that, to many people, Robin Thicke just materialized on stage as an innocent bystander, where Miley Cyrus proceeded to grind on him, and he didn't push her away because he's a gentleman.


I know this is a weird example to use, but bear with me here: this is actually a really good demonstration of how we tend to treat female "characters" in both real life (celebrities, pop stars, people whose lives are turned into narratives by the media) and fiction. Belle stole Brina's boyfriend! Sharon is a skank! Cassandra is a coward! It's always the women who are to blame, and the men around them are blameless. It's not "Brian left Brina for Belle." It's not "Sharon had consensual sex with Steve." It's not "Connor threatened Cassandra's life and family, so she withdrew." We place the full onus for anything we don't like on the female participants, leaving nothing for their counterparts. And it's just not fair.

Miley Cyrus did a thing. Very few people seem to have liked the thing, and that's on her: she should know her audience better than that. But Robin Thicke did not accidentally wander into the performance. If there's blame to give here, it needs to go both ways.

We need to drop the double standard.
seanan_mcguire: (princess)
Friday, The Zoe-Trope posted a really interesting piece titled "Real Girls, Fake Girls, Everybody Hates Girls," which I highly recommend that you go and read before you continue with this post. It's both the background material for some of these thoughts, and more importantly, it's a really solid, thoughtful article about the issues that we, communally, are having with female characters right now. She also coined the lovely term "Sarah Jane" as the opposite of "Mary Sue": an ordinary, flawed, perfectly reasonable character who doesn't warp the universe around her.

Meanwhile, the New Statesman has posted an article titled "I Hate Strong Female Characters," taking the position that male characters are allowed to be flawed, complex, and infinitely interesting, while female characters are expected to stop at "strong." Woo! That character is strong! Flawless feminist writing!


I've talked before about the concept of "the Mary Sue," and why I think she is both unfairly maligned and non-existent. You can find that post here, which I think officially makes this the post with the most "required background reading" thus far this year. A lot of people have pointed this out recently—it is not an original thought—but I'm going to put it here anyway, because I think it's salient:

1. Mary Sue is the best she is at what she does.
2. Mary Sue has a mysterious and tortured past, and is probably an orphan.
3. Mary Sue is physically attractive.
4. Mary Sue is either rich or somehow never has a problem with money.
5. Mary Sue develops powers to suit the situation, because she always wins, unless she needs to lose for the sake of beautiful angst.
6. Mary Sue doesn't have to follow the rules of the story she's in. Ergo...
7. Batman and Wolverine are both Mary Sues.

(Pointing this out to people who are piously explaining how only female characters can be Mary Sues, because only female characters are ever that unrealistically written, is hysterical. And by "hysterical," I mean "a really good way to get yelled at by enraged nerds who don't want to admit, even a little bit, that their magical dick-lords could be just as much wish-fulfillment as all those violet-eyed sixteen-year-old ensigns flying starships.")

So. Let us begin.

October "Toby" Daye was in many ways my first "real" protagonist. She was complicated, she was sad, she was bruised and refusing to break, and she was not afraid to put her duty ahead of her desire to be liked. She bullied her way through the world she was created to inhabit, looking at every complication that stood in her way and saying "No, you move." After a lifetime spent moving dolls through stories, it was like I finally had a real person to follow and document. I started writing her adventures, and sending them out to people I trusted to read and review. Midway through either the second or the third book—I don't remember anymore—I got a note from one of my proofers saying "You can't have Toby do this, she's always been a little bitchy, but this makes her a total bitch. No one will like her if she does this."

I panicked. I couldn't write a series about an unlikeable character! I'd never get published, no one else would ever meet my imaginary friends, and everything I'd worked for my whole life would be over, all because Toby was unlikeable.

Then I took a deep breath, and wrote back to the proofer requesting that they do a find/replace on the .doc, and plug in the name "Harry Dresden" for every instance of "October Daye." They did, and lo and behold, what had been "bitchy" and "inappropriate" was suddenly "bold" and "assertive." A male character in the same situation, with the same background, taking the same actions, was completely in the right, justified, and draped with glory. He was a hero. Toby? Toby was an unlikeable bitch.

The proofer withdrew the compliant. I have never forgotten it.

Female characters are expected to be perfect without being perfect, a contradiction that is as nonsensical as it is impossible. There's a full list in the article I linked above ("I Hate Strong Female Characters"), but these are the ones that really frustrate me. Female characters have to be:

* Thin and conventionally pretty, but eat only junk food/eat constantly, and never, ever worry about gaining weight;
* Incredibly sexy but unaware of their own sexuality ("You don't know you're beautiful!").
* TOTALLY SURPRISED when a push-up bra or pair of leather pants changes the way people look at them.
* Convinced that every woman around them is a bitch, slut, or whore.

That last one...yeah. See, there's this huge narrative of "I'm not like the other girls" that runs through a lot of these critiques, and it's not "I'm not like..." the way that, say, Harry Potter is not like the other wizards in his year group. No, it's "You Belong With Me"-level "she wears high heels, I wear sneakers" shit, totally denying that the other girls could have anything of value to bring to the conversation. It's like being a member of the Disney Princess collection. You can't let those other princesses steal your spotlight, no! Ignore them, shame them, refuse to make eye contact. Call a girl who wears the same thing you do a skank, it's okay. Call a girl who's had two boyfriends a slut, even as you dance at the center of your own love pentagon. It's all fine, because you're not like those other girls. By creating a single focal point of "not like" that it's okay to care about, you place the rest of the world's female humans in a box labeled "icky." Not-like girls are great. They're strong female characters, they kick ass and take names and eat cheeseburgers and don't give a damn what the world thinks of them. All other girls are gross.

The amount of slut-shaming, fat-shaming, you-name-it-shaming that I see coming from these "strong female characters" is horrifying, because it requires that othering aspect be front and center. Your character must be above reproach, and since everyone knows that women are disgusting, horrifying, alien skin lizards wearing pretty makeup and hair dye to deceive and entrap men, she can't be like them. She can never be like those other girls.

I flip out when I meet a female character who's allowed to have female friends, because it's so damn rare. The upcoming Disney film, Frozen, has sisters in it. Sisters. Who get to be the same age and talk and stuff. I am ecstatic, because even if the movie turns out to be a sack of problematic eels, we got sisters on the goddamn screen, and that's even rarer than friends.

Where does this come from? Well, in part, it comes from the things we surround ourselves with. Books and movies where the Smurfette Principle is in full effect, which means that one woman must stand in for all women, and thus can't have a personality beyond "the girl." Series where you have the one sensible, sympathetic female, and every other female character is there to cause trouble or gasp no oh no panic, steal her man. Series where the female characters are killed off to further male pain, or because the male characters are "easier to write" (a statement that often matches up to an all-male writer's room).

It needs to stop.

Female characters should be people. Flawed, glorious, interesting, enthralling people. Let them dye their hair and pierce their ears without going "wah wah wah I'm so bad at being a girl wait hey look suddenly I've gotten a makeover and I'm gorgeous." Let them have female friends. Let them fuck up. Let them have bad days, and swear, and be snotty, and be people. Stop shoving them into these boxes where anything less than perfect adherence to a set of ticky-boxes means failure. They are better than that. We are better than that.

It's time for everybody's standards to look the same.
seanan_mcguire: (marilyn)
In the comments on my post on how difficult it is to harass people by mistake, people are branching into the cosplay discussion. It's still pretty mild here, because y'all are awesome, but I've seen it get fairly intense elsewhere. IE, "That girl over there who's dressed up like Black Widow is inviting me to stare at her, so how can the same rules of harassment apply to her?"

Well, first, the same rules of harassment apply to her because she's a goddamn human being, and all human beings, regardless of what they do or do not choose to wear, deserve to feel safe and be free from harassment. Second, the same rules of harassment apply to her because we're human beings, or alien anthropologists who know damn well where the standards for human behavior lie, and once we're old enough to buy convention memberships and book hotel rooms, we should know better. (We should know better before then, too, but that's a matter for our parents.)

I have several friends who do cosplay, both at general science fiction conventions and at larger genre conventions, such as San Diego Comic Con. This means that they are going out in public in outfits they have spent a lot of time and energy making, which may or may not be as concealing as standard street clothes. (One of my friends regularly cosplays Emma Frost. Another has won awards for a Na'vi costume which consists largely of incredibly well-applied body paint.) This also means that they are inviting a certain amount of looking at them: no one puts that much effort into looking amazing when they don't want to be looked at.

Note that "look" and "leer" are not the same word.

What is appropriate? Admiring a cosplayer's costume. Admiring how well they fit the character. Asking if you can take a picture (providing they're not in the middle of doing something else at the time, like say, trying to inhale a hot dog before their next panel, running to the bathroom, or otherwise being a biological creature in a material universe). Asking if you can take a picture with them. Asking about the workmanship that went into the costume's design.

What is not appropriate? "I really love it when a girl with decent tits dresses up as [character]." Trying to take pictures of disembodied lady pieces, like butts or boobs (also inappropriate: disembodied dude bits—they're just rarer). Quizzing them on whether or not they even know who they're dressed up as. (Spoiler alert: anyone who spent ninety hours making a picture-accurate Illyana Rasputin costume probably knows who she is, and if it's someone who, say, joined a group costume to make their friends happy, but prefers DC/spends too much time gaming to read comics/is really happier in the SCA, how is that hurting you any? There is no such thing as a fake geek.) Asking if they'll give you a spanking. Asking how much they charge by the hour. Asking if you can touch them.

There is something magical about meeting a really good cosplayer dressed as one of your favorite characters. They're avatars. Watch a small child meet someone dressed as Iron Man or Aang and see them stare in open-mouthed awe. Hell, watch me meet a really good Tinker Bell at a Disney park. Costuming is a form of magic. It makes the unreal concrete and tangible. It deserves respect.

But those Tinker Bells that I meet at Disneyland have handlers, people who will immediately step in if anyone crosses a line or makes the pixies uncomfortable. What's more, those Disney pixies are paid to be my fantasy, as long as that fantasy remains G-rated and friendly. Cosplayers? Not getting paid. They are people, and they have a right to the ball. They also have the right to say "please take your hand off me" or "please don't take pictures of my ass" without getting told "well, you shouldn't have dressed like that if you didn't want the attention." Wanting attention and wanting to be harassed are very different things.

And as a note: cosplayers are not harassing you by walking around being attractive, or semi-clothed, or interesting to look at. They are not "teases" or "gagging for it" when they put on something skimpy. They are not here to be anyone's private walking skin magazine. They are people.

(Yes, this means they can be inappropriate too. We had an issue at one of the comic conventions a few years ago with someone dressed as Deadpool inappropriately touching female attendees, and then running away. He couldn't be distinguished from the eight or so Deadpools not being giant sacks of asshole. Last year at Emerald City Comic-Con I observed two woman dressed as Jean Gray saying such nasty things about a woman dressed as Emma Frost that she was virtually in tears. None of these things were, or are, appropriate.)

Cosplay makes our conventions more visually arresting. It's a powerful form of expression. It's a hobby and a passion like any other. But costume does not equal consent.

Again, if this is something you can't trust yourself to grasp, maybe you need to stay home.
seanan_mcguire: (average)
So we're talking a lot about harassment in the science fiction and fantasy community right now, and that's a good thing: that's a thing that really needs to happen. Much of the conversation has centered on sexual harassment, but it has also touched on racial harassment, religious harassment, social harassment, and plain ol' bullying. John Scalzi has put forth a convention harassment policy policy (not as redundant as it sounds), and a lot of people have co-signed to indicate that they, too, will refrain from attending conventions without good, public anti-harassment policies. Sounds good, right? I mean, "play nicely with the other children" is the building block of most people's educations, and none of us wakes up in the morning thinking "I'm gonna harass somebody today."

(Well. Maybe some people do. And fuck them.)

But as always happens when this conversation gets started, some people are standing up and shouting "THOUGHT POLICE!" and "Well I don't want to go to a convention where wearing a T-shirt could get me banned for harassment."

Oh, honey lambs, I'm sorry the world is so hard. Let's talk about harassment a little more, shall we? Wikipedia (which is not the most 100% reputable source, but is easy to copy and paste) defines "harassment" as "behavior intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive." It goes on to say that "In the legal sense, it is intentional behavior which is found threatening or disturbing. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances."

Intentional. Intended. Persistent. What does each of these words mean? Let's look at definitions taken from real world experiences.

Intentional. If you run up to me in a public place and scream "I'M GOING TO RAPE YOU, YOU FAT BITCH!", you are harassing me. It only took one sentence to cross that line! Why is that? Well, because a specific threat was made, and even if there was no intent to actually cause physical harm, anyone who makes that statement clearly intended to disturb and upset me. This is harassment, and yeah, it's probably going to lead to my making a report to convention staff, and no, I'm not going to feel bad if someone gets kicked out because of it.

On the other hand, what if I'm just walking through the convention lobby and I hear some guys making dirty jokes in the corner? Is that harassment? No. It's in poor taste, but it's not harassment. I may still say something to convention staff, because most cons include children, and public space is not the place to be crossing certain lines.

Intended. But what happens if, after I tell convention staff "Hey, those guys over there are telling dirty jokes loudly in the lobby, maybe it would be a good idea for them to stop" those same people figure out that I was the one who reported them and spend the rest of the day following me around the hotel, telling dirty jokes loudly to try and get a rise out of me? What if, say, they follow me into my panels and ask questions that are really set-ups for filthy punchlines? Is that harassment?

Yeah. They intended to upset me. They wanted me to feel unsafe and unwelcome, and they did a very good job of it. But what if it was a T-shirt that made me go "ew," and not a bunch of joke-tellers? Well, if the convention doesn't have a "clean language" policy (which some cons with lots of underage attendees do have: they want Grandma to be able to look around the lobby and feel like little Timmy is safe), that's not harassment. Hell, even if there is a "clean language" policy, it's not harassment, it's just a rule violation. Running into the person in the inappropriate-to-me shirt several times over the course of the day is not harassment, it's happenstance.

I have seen costumed individuals harass people with their attire. The most upsetting incident involved someone in a bikini and bodypaint trying to force an individual whose religion forbade him to stare at uncovered women to look at her. Was the man committing religious oppression or harassment? No. He never said, at least in my hearing, that she needed to cover up her sinful, sinful body. He just didn't look at her. Was the woman committing harassment? Yes. But look at her actions: she intended to do what she did. It was intentional. Lots of women wearing as little or less walked by, and none of them were harassing him with their presence. Just the one who was yelling and touching his arms and generally being intentionally problematic.

Persistent. I've seen several people say that anti-harassment policies are the end of convention hook-ups and no geeks will ever get dates again oh noes we're going to die out. And that's where persistent comes to the party.

"Hey, you're nice, wanna have coffee?"

Not harassment!

"That dress could make a good dog break his leash."
"Crude but points for The West Wing reference."

Probably not harassment!

"Wanna fuck?"

Maybe harassment, maybe not, depending on what came before it.

"You're hot."
"Thanks, I'm with someone."
"Aw baby don't be like that."
"Please excuse me."
"Your ass is just...mmm."
"I'd really like to go over there."
"I'll come with you baby."

Harassment! Look: no one is saying "don't ask people out" or "never talk to a person you find attractive again." We're saying "no means no." We're saying "if she's trying to get away from you, let her." We're saying "if you follow him through the hotel, you are being inappropriate." We're saying "unless I have asked you to touch me, touching me is not appropriate."

Studies have shown that people are much better at picking up on "no" than they want to admit, because admitting it would mean acknowledging it. So learn to pick up on "no," both verbally and non-verbally. Watch body language. Back off. Listen.

Having a bawdy song filk circle is not harassment: it's in the program book, it's labeled, and anyone who comes to that circle and gets offended by the circle in general is looking to get upset. Singing a dirty song during open filk while staring at the girl who says she's uncomfortable with that sort of thing and going "Ha ha Olga's probably pretty turned on" is harassment. You have singled her out. You are making an intentional choice. You are persisting.

Cat and I do this panel called "In Conversation" that's sort of like "An Evening With Kevin Smith" with more boobs. We always provide a program book description that says, flat out, that we will swear, that we will answer all questions, that no topics are off the table. So no, you don't get to attend our panel and then say we harassed you with our swearing. But if we have that same conversation in the lobby, and won't stop, and get louder when asked to stop, you are right to involve the convention staff. You have a right to feel safe. You have a right to be allowed to participate freely in your community.

I've used "you" throughout this post both to avoid gendering the subject, and to make this point: If you, the reader, think that a convention where you can be asked not to make rape jokes at panelists, not to lay hands on people who have asked you (either aloud or with their actions) to leave them alone, and to treat everyone else as a human being who has a right to the ball, if you think that this convention sounds like political correctness gone awry and something you want no part in, good.

Stay home.
seanan_mcguire: (coyote)
The current SFWA shouting match about sexism and harassment and "OH MY GOD I AM BEING OPPRESSED BY FEMINISTS" is leading to a lot of the very predictable "Help help bad people are trying to take away my freedom of speech."

Here's the thing: No one involved in this fight is saying "you should never use your freedom of speech." Not to anyone, not at all. We are, after all, not the government. What we are saying is "you didn't buy the 'freedom from consequences' expansion pack." And really, that's what's being requested here: not freedom of speech, but freedom from the consequences of speaking.

"Sure, I called another professional in my field sub-human because I dislike their race/religion/choice of ice cream flavors! But I'm allowed! I have FREEDOM OF SPEECH."

"Sure, I told that fatso urban fantasy author to lose some weight and brush her hair so that we could take her seriously as a writer! But I'm allowed! I have FREEDOM OF SPEECH."

"Sure, I misgendered another author for funsies, refusing to acknowledge the reality of their existence! But I'm allowed! I have FREEDOM OF SPEECH."




If someone chooses to say sexist, racist, bigoted shit, that's on them: that’s theirs to deal with. I will not restrict their ability to say it. But there will be consequences. Maybe consequences as minor as me not wanting to have a conversation with them; maybe consequences as major as an editor choosing not to work with them, or an agent declining to sign them, as they would be bad for the agency’s image (and hence bottom line).

These "rabid weasels" (term coined by Mary Robinette Kowal, the voice of Toby and a glorious voice of reason) are HARMING SFWA AS A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION. Not just by taking time and energy away from writing—which, gods know, is a thing we all need to be doing more of—but by making us look, in public, like this is what all believe. They’re very loud, those weasels, and while they have the right to say whatever they want, we’re the ones choosing to allow them to do it inside our house.

I use my freedom of speech: I use it to say "that ain't cool" about a lot of things. For my trouble I am called a bitch, a whore, a slut, a cunt, a stupid cow, a pig, too dumb to rape, and a lot of other things. Those are the consequences of my speech. And the consequences of those words are simple:

I refuse to stop pointing out the people who use them.
seanan_mcguire: (alh2)
I just received an email from an anonymous source using the option that Livejournal affords that says "you can send me email if you want to" (and I will be turning that option off now; if you want to reach me, you can use the website contact form and go through my PA, like everyone else). The author didn't sign their name (hence the "anonymous"), and went out of their way to say that the email address used will be invalid in two weeks. I am not reproducing the entirety of the email here, but as points have been raised that I feel are relevant to certain ongoing discussions, I will be reproducing parts of it. I will note that I have printed fan mail, both in parts and its entirety, on this blog before, and that this is not a change of policy.

In order to fairly address certain points raised by my anonymous correspondent, I will need to provide relationship spoilers for some of my works. This includes all currently published books in my three primary series; the "Velveteen vs." short stories, which are available here; and Sparrow Hill Road, which is not currently available, but is a part of the InCryptid universe. To avoid these spoilers, please do not click the cut-tag or read the comments.

Click to continue, or do not click, and be at peace. )
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
I just got home from an afternoon showing of Now You See Me, chosen both because I wanted to see the movie, and because it's a swelteringly hot June day here in Northern California; we were hiding from the sun. A fun little caper movie about magicians robbing banks seemed like just the way to go. Plus, air conditioning.

I got half of what I wanted: I got air conditioning. I will be as spoiler-free as I can, but I am unhappy.

The setup of the movie is thus: four magicians, all of whom are awesome in their solo acts, are Recruited To Do Something. This isn't a spoiler; it's the premise, which leads to them teaming up and being awesome and also robbing banks and shit (all in the trailers). We have a mentalist, a classic slight-of-hand trickster, an escape artist, and a pickpocket/misdirectionist. As they start to do their shit, they are pursued by an FBI agent, an Interpol agent, a professional debunker, and a dude who got robbed.

Of the characters listed above, two are female. They never speak to each other. No, never. No, not even then. There are two secondary female characters, who also never speak to each other (one is there purely to be a pretty status symbol). The female magician is the only one who never gets an awesome moment where her field of magic, her specialization is both key to the plan and saves the day. Literally the first thing one of the other magicians says to her is "you're pretty."


Now here's the thing: while I disagree that some roles are particularly "gendered," I can accept that right now, in our current media climate, you will want at least 75% of your romances to be between characters of opposite genders. I don't like it, but I will roll with it. And that being said, there was not a single fucking character in this movie who needed to be male. Make the smug team leader a girl, and make the ex-girlfriend an ex-boyfriend! Make the action character a girl (I basically spent every moment one of the magicians was on screen wishing he would turn into Beth Reisgraf). Make more than one important member of your team a fucking female.

And we now stand, again, at the edge of one of my biggest complaints about media today: a team with three men and one women wasn't seen as imbalanced, but the opposite team would have been. It's very possible that even a two-and-two team would have been seen as dominated by women. I am not calling for gender equality in every movie. I saw The Fast and the Furious 6 earlier this month; it was male-dominated, and it was fantastic. Not without its issues—what is?—but well-balanced, casting-wise, with multiple interesting, nuanced female characters who were allowed to interact.

When I go on these "why was so-and-so a guy" rants, someone always says "would you have this complaint if the cast were exactly gender reversed?", and I always say no. I still say no. Because there are so many male-dominated action movies and caper flicks and summer blockbusters that adding a few female-dominated examples would not be "reverse discrimination," it would be balancing the backlog. What I really want is gender neutrality. I want a team of two girls and two guys robbing banks with slight-of-hand and being awesome, rather than another movie that reduces me to a prize or a non-entity.

It's exhausting being this unhappy all the time.

The media won't let me stop.
seanan_mcguire: (zombie)
All right, here are the basics: in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin there was an article essentially saying (among many other problematic things) that if I say that taking about my gender as if it somehow makes me an alien creature makes me uncomfortable, I am censoring and oppressing you, rather than just asking that you, you know, stop doing that shit if you want my good feeling and respect. [ profile] jimhines has collected links to a wide range of responses and rebuttals. You don't need to read them all, but they're still a good, overwhelmingly unhappy view of a bad situation. I recommend reading at least a few of them, because it'll help you understand what's going on, although for many people, the important points are:

1. This article came after several instances of sexism in the Bulletin.
2. The Bulletin is the official publication of SFWA*, which makes it look like organizationally condoned sexism.
3. It's 2013, for fuck's sake.

One of the things that Resnick and Malzberg, as the authors of the piece in question, objected to was that people were unhappy that they were defining their peers as "lady authors/editors" and "gorgeous." These are, after all, factual definitions! A female peer is a lady peer. A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman. Don't women like being told that they're beautiful? Aren't we supposed to be precise when we talk about people? And to this I say sure, except that your precision is unequal and belittling. "Bob is my peer, Jane is my lady peer" creates two classes where two classes do not belong, and humans are primates, we're creatures of status and position. Give us two things and we'll always start trying to figure out which is superior to the other. Right or left? Up or down? Peer or lady peer? What's more, adding a qualifier creates the impression that the second class is somehow an aberration. "There were a hundred of us at the convention, ninety-nine peers and one rare lady peer."

No. Fuck no. "Bob and Jane are my peers." Much better.

As for the appearance thing...yeah, people often like to be told when they look good. But women in our modern world are frequently valued according to appearance to such a degree that it eclipses all else. "Jane was a hell of a science fiction writer...but more importantly, she was gorgeous according to a very narrow and largely male-defined standard of conventional beauty." All Jane's accomplishments, everything she ever did as a person, matter less than the fact that she got good genes during character generation. You don't think that burns? You don't think that's insulting? "Bob knew how to tell a good story, and he did it while packing an impressively sinuous trouser snake." What, is that insulting? How is it more insulting than "Jane could really fill out a swimsuit"? It's the same thing. If my breasts define my value to the community, you'd better be prepared to hold up your balls for the same level of inspection—and trust me, this is not sexy funtimes inspection, this is "drape 'em in Spandex and brace yourself for a lot of critique that frankly doesn't have a goddamn thing to do with how well you write, or what kind of human being you are." Don't like this idea, gentlemen of the world? Well, neither do the ladies.

It's very telling that you'll get people saying, again, "author and lady author are just true facts," but then getting angry when you say that fine, if they want divisions, it needs to be "male and female author." No! Male is the default the norm the baseline of human experience! How dare you imply anything different!

I, and roughly fifty percent of the world's population, would like to beg to differ. It's just that women get forced to understand men if we want to enjoy media and tell stories, while men are allowed to treat women as these weird extraterrestrial creatures who can never be comprehended, but must be fought. It's like we're somehow the opposing army in an alien invasion story, here to be battled, defeated, and tamed, but never acknowledged as fully human.

Does that seem like a lot to get out of the phrase "lady author"? It kinda is. But that's what happens when the background radiation of your entire life is a combination of "men are normal, human, wonderful, admirable, talented, worth aspiring to," and "bitches be crazy."

Am I disappointed that these sentiments were published in the official Bulletin of the organization to which I belong? Damn straight. It shows an essential lack of kindness on the part of the authors, who felt that their right to call me a "lady author" and comment on my appearance mattered more than my right to be comfortable and welcomed in an organization that charges me annual dues that are the same regardless of gender. Maybe if I got a discount for allowing people to belittle and other me? Only then I would never have joined, because fuck that noise.

At the same time, SFWA is a wonderful organization that has done and is doing a great deal to help authors, and moves are being taken to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future. My membership is up for renewal at the end of this month, and I'm renewing, because change comes from both without and within. I am an author. I am a woman. I am not going to shut up and slink away because I feel unheard; if anything, I'm going to get louder, and make them hear me. (Please note that I absolutely respect the women who are choosing not to renew their memberships; voting with your dollars is a time-honored tradition. But everyone reacts differently. For them, this is a principled stance. For me, it would be a retreat. I am the Official SFWA Stabber, and nobody is making me retreat.)

One of the big points of the Resnick/Malzberg article was "anonymous complaints." Fine, then: I am not anonymous. My name is Seanan McGuire. You can look me up.

(*The Science Fiction Writers of America.)
seanan_mcguire: (knives)
The main flush of angry kvetching over the Hugo ballot has passed; we're on to complaining about other things, like the Clarke Award short list and whether or not "fake geek girls" really exist. (I have a guest post about fake geek girls and why they're a fiction that makes me want to set everything the sun touches on fire coming up later this month, so I'm not going to go into that now.) And to be honest, I'm really glad. Sure, it's nice to have everyone you've ever met in a friendly capacity saying congratulations for a couple of days, and it's an honor to be nominated—nothing can change that. But the personal comments got to be a bit much within the first twenty-four hours, and by the time the primary articles stopped, I was basically just hiding under my bed and waiting for it to be over.

(And yes, because I know it will be said, I know better than to go ego-surfing and link-chasing during the immediate aftermath of the ballot's release. This isn't my first rodeo. The trouble is, there's no way to make everyone else know this. I get emailed things, I get linked to things by people I trust, and while I try to be a sunshiny murder princess, I don't actually live inside a bubble of good feelings and kittens with machetes. I'm sure I could find way worse than what I encountered organically. I'm not going looking.)

Some people didn't like my nominated works; that's normal, that's okay, that's the way this is supposed to go. I assure you, the Hugo ballot is not 100% the ballot I would have designed, for me, to suit my idea of the best the genre has to offer. I think the only category that would escape my meddling completely unchanged is the Campbell, and that's just because I don't have any strong idea of who else was eligible this year. If you like 100% of this year's Hugo ballot, congratulations: you have won the genre lottery, and I do not envy you the stress of trying to decide how to vote. (And no, I'm not going to post my "in an ideal world" Hugo ballot. I have no interest in slighting the very worthy nominees who would not have been on there if some weird-ass rule had caused me to be solely responsible for selecting this year's candidates.) If you don't like what I write, that's totally cool. Vote for what you do like.

But the thing I encountered, in several places, that puzzled the living shit out of me? Was criticism of my excessive self-promotion.


Sunil helpfully went back over my blog for this past awards season, and found two posts: one summarizing my eligible works from 2012, and one saying "these are things which I have nothing to do with, but would love to see make the ballot." (Two of those things made the ballot, two of them did not.) I can't search my Twitter stream as easily, but I know I reminded people a couple of times that nominations were closing, usually by retweeting reminders made by other people. I never said "me me me nominate me me me." I did say that I really wanted to win a Hugo for fiction. I said it once. I said it with a clarifying note that I felt it was dishonest not to state my biases in that context. And that was it for my 2013 Hugo self-promotion.

I bring this up because I've seen more self-promotion—a lot more—from quite a few other authors, some of whom are on the ballot, most of whom are male. And that's fine! Self-promotion is not a sin! It's sort of our job. Word-of-mouth is awesome, and it sells books and builds fans, but that word-of-mouth begins with someone standing up and saying "I did something cool, please look at it." You should self-promote to exactly the level with which you, personally, are comfortable. If other people don't like it, they can stop following you into whatever venue you're promoting yourself in. I am not personally comfortable with excessive self-promotion, even as I find myself grateful when other people do it, because it keeps me up to date on their accomplishments. The human mind is a funny thing, and it doesn't have to make sense all the time.

But here's the thing: I have not seen charges of "excessive self-promotion" lain against any of my male counterparts. Not the ones in my weight class, not the ones above me, not the ones below me. Not the ones who self-promote ten times as much as I do. I have, however, seen the "excessive self-promotion" accusation lain against other women who make it onto award ballots. And that troubles me, because it demonstrates a gender bias that has been found in a great number of social settings and contexts.

Language Myth #6: Do Women Talk Too Much?

Click the link. Read it. And see why I get so upset when I don't self-promote much (and feel terrible about self-promoting at all, even though I recognize that it's a part of my job), yet get tarred for doing it "excessively." (And no, this is not a case of "protesting too much" or "where there's smoke, there's fire." This is a case of "I become distressed and depressed when accused of things I didn't do, especially when they're connected in any way to things which are innately difficult for me.)

These two quotes especially resonated with me:

"Teachers are often unaware of the gender distribution of talk in their classrooms. They usually consider that they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, and it is only when they make a tape recording that they realize that boys are dominating the interactions. Dale Spender, an Australian feminist who has been a strong advocate of female rights in this area, noted that teachers who tried to restore the balance by deliberately ‘favouring’ the girls were astounded to find that despite their efforts they continued to devote more time to the boys in their classrooms. Another study reported that a male science teacher who managed to create an atmosphere in which girls and boys contributed more equally to discussion felt that he was devoting 90 per cent of his attention to the girls. And so did his male pupils. They complained vociferously that the girls were getting too much talking time."


"The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women."

I am not a silent woman. But I am not louder than the men who are in my peer group. We're all talking at about the same volume, some a little louder, some a little softer. And it would be nice if my gender would stop being the one factor that determined the worth, and appropriateness, of everything I did.
seanan_mcguire: (discount2)
I want to open this by saying that I love my cover art. It's a blanket statement: I am one of the rare, lucky authors who has never had to grit her teeth and stand behind a cover she didn't care for. The Toby covers are atmospheric and brilliant and show Toby accurately. The Newsflesh covers are iconic in a way I could only have fantasized about. The InCryptid covers are amazing representations of the characters, done by the first cover artist I got to choose for myself. I virtually campaigned for Aly Fell, and I could not be happier with his work. Like, seriously, could not be happier.

But here's the thing.

When I go to the bookstore, half-naked women greet me in literally every section except for cozy mysteries. There are elegant half-naked women on action novels, waiting to be ravaged. There are misty, wistful half-naked women on YA novels, ready to embark on romantic adventures, probably while drowning. There are lots of half-naked women on science fiction and fantasy, many of them happy to show me their posteriors. And this doesn't even touch on the comic book store, where there are so many half-naked women that I barely even notice them anymore. Once I stopped expecting puberty to give me a figure like Dazzler or Illyana Rasputin, I just tuned all the thrusting hips and pointy boobs out, like the white noise that they were.

I don't actually know very many women who go "Oh, oh, I gotta get me a book with a naked chick on the cover." I do know a lot of women who are uncomfortable with those naked chicks, and who try to avoid reading books with naked chicks on them in public. I had a few people get angry on my behalf when the cover of Discount Armageddon was released, before they realized that I had petitioned for that image, and that it was an intentional send-up of certain cheesecake conventions. And without speaking for any other authors, I am the only one I know of who actually said to her publisher, "Hey, you know what would be awesome? If my smart, strong, savvy, heavily-armed protagonist was in a miniskirt." (DAW took this in stride, by the way, which was hysterical when you consider that my one cover request for the Toby books was "Can she be wearing clothes?")

I also don't know many, if any, women who defend the often exaggerated and impossible anatomy that shows up on these covers. In fact, women tend to decry it, and when I have heard defense, it's mostly come from men. These are very general statements, and I know that: I am not trying to imply that all men love plastic spines and thighs the length of torsos. Jim Hines, for example, has done some excellent deconstruction of these covers, recreating them in the physical world (as much as he can) to demonstrate just how ludicrous they are. And if you think I'm exaggerating, I invite you to Google the phrase "Escher girls," and see how incredibly much oversexualized, anatomically questionable art makes it onto the cover of books and comics.

So it seems likely that the intended audience for the half-naked women is largely male. Okay. As a bisexual woman, I like looking at pretty girls, and I don't see anything wrong with men liking to look at pretty girls. When I sit on the train, I should see dozens of men reading books with half-naked women on them, right? Because they're trained to the male gaze, so they should attract it, right?

The single most common critique I received of the cover for Discount Armageddon was from male readers saying they could not read the physical book in public. And while I think anyone should be able to read anything they want to without feeling ashamed, this critique does raise a question about who the half-naked women are actually for, if guys don't want to be associated with them.

I was recently involved in an online "cover battle," where people voted for their favorite cover of 2012. It was super-fun, and I made it to the finals, where the cover of Discount Armageddon was rightfully defeated by the cover of Chuck Wendig's fantastic Blackbirds (which you should read if you haven't already). Except maybe I'm exaggerating a little when I say that it was super-fun, because for me, the fun started dying when people started leaving nasty comments about my cover.

"Wow, so garbage made in Poser consisting of a scantily clad woman in thigh-highs is winning over that beautiful piece of art on the Wendig book."

"WHY IS DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON WINNING? D: When did we start liking slutty girls in miniskirts holding guns and swords, Dragonites? WHEN?"

Even some of the site text was faintly shaming, with comments like "because of our male readership massively voting for the sexy cheerleader chick" when trying to deduce why my (fantastic, thank you Aly) cover was still in the running. (The site text was updated after Chuck stated that my cover was still in the fight because it was a damn fine urban fantasy cover. The text was, in fact, updated to quote Chuck directly. I love Chuck.)

But let me tell you, shit like that? Harshes my squee real fucking fast. Thanks for the assumption that a girl in a miniskirt must be slutty, commenter! Thanks for calling it garbage, other commenter! Thanks for making me feel like I don't get to be a real author because I wrote a book where the main character can accurately be depicted by the cover image I asked for and received.

Riddle me this, o world. If women mostly don't ask for half-naked girls on book covers, if most book covers seem geared to the male gaze, whether rightly or wrongly, then why is it men stepping up to call those covers garbage, and to call the women who grace them slutty? Why is my cover getting slut-shamed by someone who doesn't know the girl in that picture, doesn't know who she is or why that image is an accurate one? It's like the art is awesome as long as it's on a closet door, but if you're asked to like it in public, it's time to throw out a few micro-aggressions to keep people from thinking you're "that kind" of person.

Fuck. That.

I want every book to have an accurate cover. If I open a book with a half-naked girl on it, I want that half-naked girl to be inside. I want to read those books while proudly proclaiming to anyone who sees them in my hands, "I have a book with a half-naked woman in it." I want everyone reading everything, and I don't want any more of this "these are the covers that sell, so these are the covers you'll get, but no one's ever going to admit to liking them." And part of this is going to be dialing back the crappy anatomy and the questionable sexuality. If the characters keep their clothes on in the text, they should do it on the cover, too. If the characters get naked, they should still be painted or photoshopped to look like people, not plastic nightmares with eleven-inch waists (unless they're wasps or something).

And let's stop slut-shaming fictional characters based on a single picture. It's not fair to the books, it's not fair to the authors, and it's not fair to the readers who might be waiting to fall in love with them.

We should be better than this.

September 2017

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