A rambling post, tonight.
A friend of mine just posted a long and rather disquieting (to me) piece on his blog, about the systematic harassing of women that seems to be an established element in what I’ll call, to be brief, “fantasy fandom” (which to me includes SF, comics, games, the works).
You find it here – it’s in Italian.
The author, Elvezio Sciallis, is an independent journalist and a fine critic.
Now, the idea of women being harassed and discriminated in what I consider my community scares me and pains me on two levels.
The first is, such behavior is not something I can accept – the examples cited really hit me hard.
I hate these guys.
The second level is possibly even harder to stomach – my experience of science fiction and fantasy fandom never caused me to think such problems were in any way widespread, or something more than an occasional asshole to be rounded up and isolated.
Therefore, now I ask myself: have I been lucky, distracted or, damn, part of the problem myself?
Does the fact that I read old pulps and fantasy and SF make me a sexist, racist individual?
Am I instinctively what I hate intellectually?
And as I normally do nowadays, I’m writing to set my thoughts straight – and you are reading my ramblings.
For starters, I get a modicum of relief recalling Michael Moorcock‘s observation, that despite George Orwell’s dark misgivings, reading Tarzan as a kid did not turn him into an animal-killing fascist.
But while I am quite ready to absolve myself from most of my sins – which are, I believe (or I hope), minor, something else emerges.
Anyone out there, causing pain or stress to another human being, by sharing my interests is implicitly causing pain and stress to me.
Now, I would laugh out loud should anyone accuse me of reading Howard (for example) because of the scantly clad women in his stories – as I’d be equally amused should anyone suggest women out there read Howard because of Conan’s often reduced wardrobe.
We human beings usually read good fun stories because they are good, and fun.
Not everything is automatically pornography just because it could be used that way.
And yet, anyone using the narrative of Robert E. Howard as an excuse to discriminate or harass a woman (or anyone else, of course), is implicitly causing me to be discriminated or harassed, because I do like Howard’s stories too.
By being an asshole, he justifies anyone thinking I’m an asshole too, because we (in theory at least) like the same author, share the same interest.
We are perceived as part of the same tribe, sharing a common set of values.
It’s not like that.
My friend Elvezio’s article quotes female warriors in chainmail bikinis and alien princesses abducted by tentacle monsters.
I can relate to that : it’s pulp, those are classic cliches, they are part of the game, they are part of the package.
But it’s not what makes me tick – it’s not my motivator, when I’m reading (or writing).
It’s not the filter through which I perceive and decode reality.
And I am not an exception or an outlier.
And it’s painful, feeling like we are on trial, and we must justify ourselves because of an old Frazetta cover, just because someone, by that cover, felt entitled to act like an asshole.
This close connection, this implied cause-and-effect mechanism between a certain set of narrative and visual cliches, and a certain set of distorted values, scares me.
Because it comes naturally, and because it is wrong.
It’s like accusing anyone enjoying the sight of Michelangelo’s David of having a dirty mind.
“You like ogling naked guys!”
Who knows? Some punters will probably have a dirty mind, and maybe fantasize in some weird way while looking at that sculpture – but they are not the standard, they are not the majority, they are not the norm.
And implying that enjoying a piece of art (any piece of art) can sort of desensitize us in some way, is a dangerous generalization.
It reeks of book-burnings and other horrors.
Are there some artists or writers that use those cliches to manipulate us into thinking and acting in a certain way?
Clearly some cliches pull some of our animal strings – that’s why they are still being used.
Because they work.
But being human, we can filter our base instincts through intelligence.
There are other factors – which we might call education, maturity, sensibility, experience or what.
The problem is not the images, or the stories, but the tools we provide to the readers and the watchers (and the writers, and the artists, too), so that they’ll be able and go beyond the animal stimulation those images and stories provide.
We must spot the assholes, and act to set them straight.
But we must avoid generalizations, and we must stay clear of guilt trips – because they are easy, they make us feel good and virtuous, and because they are useless, and hypocritical,and they are a way for us to actually avoid the problem, not solve it.
The good guys get guilt trips.
Assholes will be assholes.
End of rant.
- A Quick Appendix For Some Of The Most Influential Lady Authors Of Sword & Sorcery Fiction (swordsandstitchery.blogspot.com)
- The Difference Between Assholes and Douchebags (gavgreene.com)
- Writing What I Want (nerdredefined.wordpress.com)