And this brings us to the last of the Related Works, which is Kameron Hurley’s essay collection, Geek Feminist Revolution. Hooray! Or, as Courtney Milan would probably say, Huzzah! Suffragettes!
I enjoyed this one a lot. I was also rather pleased by the shout out to LiveJournal in the introduction, because I’m really very easy to please.
This essay collection is divided into four parts. The first is about writing, and about being a woman on the internet. Honestly, she makes it sound like very thankless work, especially in her essay about how persistence is the whole game, and in the recurring theme that yes, if you are a woman on the internet, people are going to say vile things to you, and while you shouldn’t have to deal with this, you are pretty much going to have to. She also talks about sexism in the writing industry (apparently there is a perception that women only write werewolves and vampires, hard SF work written by women gets covers that looks like tampon ads, and of course the there is the predictable business about contracts that are less than what men get for similar work). Hurley does talk about why she is still here, which is largely, I think, down to being inspired by Joanne Russ, and realising when she died that someone had to keep the torch burning, and that it was better when many people can share the load.
Reading these essays feels very much like reading one of the more fannish feminist blogs. This is probably because Hurley writes a fannish feminist blog. Since I like reading fannish feminist blogs, this is right up my street.
I think one of my favourite essays in this section is called Taking Responsibility for Writing Problematic Stories. Hurley talks about a story she wrote where the only gay male character died. She realised that this was problematic and tried to rearrange story to find a way that rescued the character without killing the story, but realised that she couldn’t do it. So then she decided that she could at least improve representation of gay male characters in the story. But it still isn’t necessarily enough:
And though I stood there talking to the reader about all the things I’d tried to do both here and in later books to mitigate that problematic death, the gay guy still dies. I still played into the stereotype. And that stereotype still hurts people…
How we respond when someone tells us a trope or a story is problematic… is vitally important. It doesn’t always mean “Burn it all down”. It means this piece is broken and needs to be addressed. And if you are willing to live with that broken piece, it means owning up to it, saying yes, I know it’s damaging to people, and I own that.
I’m going to have to chew over that one, I think.
The next section is called Geek. It starts off by and large being reviews of various movies and shows, rather in the tradition of problematic faves – pointing out misogyny and objectification of women but also pointing out where a show is good enough to capture her and even get her on side despite this. I especially liked her review of Fury Road (which she does not, in fact, find problematic). She does, however, believe that problematic stories – stories that are full of sexism and racism are economic dead ends. Where there are stories available that don’t punch you in the face with things that you really don’t want, people will choose them.
The section then moves on to a collection of essays about gender roles and fictional characters, and what fictional characters are allowed to be. Women, for example, can be strong, but not scary; they can be complicated, but not unlikeable in the ways men can be. But men, while being permitted to be more complex, are also expected to cope with levels of violence and just absorb this in some way and not be traumatised it. She also talks a bit about how a lot of the ideas we have about primitive humans come from 1950s fears and propaganda.
“Let’s be real. If women were “naturally” anything, societies wouldn’t spend so much time trying to police every aspect of their lives.”
She writes a lot of interesting things about assumptions we make about sexuality, including our own, and tells a rather striking story about how when she first had a crush on a girl she had no way to conceive of this outside a heterosexual narrative, and so she daydreamed about being male and thus able to flirt with this girl. The idea that she could be a girl flirting with a girl didn’t cross her mind, because she liked boys, too, ergo she couldn’t be gay.
There is also a great essay on the importance of not becoming resigned and deciding that the world can’t be changed, which becomes a defense of dystopic fiction. I hadn’t thought of dystopias as driving positive change – people see the place where they don’t want to go and are driven to fix things. But you can’t have only dystopias, because people need hope, too.
“When you believe people can’t change the world, they win. Of course people can change the world. Who do you think got us here in the first place?”
Section three is called Let’s Get Personal, and it’s where we get a lot of essays about Hurley’s own life and the things that shaped her and made her who she is, from her weight and chronic illness, to her upbringing in a very white suburb (and subsequent studies in South Africa), to her life on the internet, both as herself and in a second persona who she created to be the things she couldn’t be. This was one of my favourite parts of the book. I especially enjoyed the article on Inspires Hate (which is a shitstorm I was never part of, though I knew a lot of people who got drawn into the many iterations of it, so I watched from afar as it all unfolded).
There is a particularly powerful piece on the Affordable Health Care Act, which seems both sad and timely in the current political environment. I was also struck by Hurley’s view that tragedy is comforting to read about, because one can actually take the time to emote and have all the feelings that one doesn’t actually have the time or space for when one is actually dealing with awful things.
Honestly, this was the point where I gave up on analysing. There were so many good articles in this section and in the final one, Revolution – on trolls on the internet, on reviewers and authors, on GamerGate and the Sad Puppies, and of course the wonderful We Have Always Fought essay – and it’s much less fun to read them when you have to keep on stopping to write about them. Besides, at this point, I know that this book will be getting my top spot on the related works ballot, and you probably know enough to know whether you’ll like it too, so I’m allowed to stop.
Geek Feminist Revolution is timely, well-written, and I enjoyed reading it. And I’m particularly glad I wound up reading it last in its section – it’s always nice to end on a high note!