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I read Justine Larbalestier's awesomely awesome post this morning on Derailing and why it's derailing to take a discussion about one thing and make it about you, even if you are just asking a question to help you understand.

I've been in some mindbending conversations lately about feminism and Joanna Russ and that has encouraged me to continue reading. I find reading hard because I find finding time to read hard. So the reading I am doing on Joanna Russ feels really precious.

And then I read this week the first two chapters of "How to Suppress Women's Writing". The first is titled "Prohibition" and is about all the ways that groups of people can be prevented from participating by denying them the time to create. A couple of things stood out about this chapter for me. The first is that almost all the examples were several decades old from when Russ wrote the book which is again several decades ago. That makes many of the arguments feel less than current or perhaps easily knocked back with "but now we've had the feminist movement, it's not like that". And with no newer examples, it's hard to know whether that is an artifact of history that we can solemnly observe or whether it's something to scout out for now.

There were some interesting things in this chapter that stood out for me. The first was that it never occurred to me that Marie Curie was anything other than a full time researcher/scientist. And that that never occurred to me is kind of fascinating too. I was jolted out of the book to contemplate the idea of forging a career in science only after one has shopping, cooked, cleaned and looked after the children. And how bloody hard that would make the thinking about science and how tired you would be and therefore how committed you would have to be to persevere. And then I got a little angry at Pierre Curie there for a bit.

I also thought about the recent discussions that were on lj a couple of weeks ago about juggling expectations with writing - notably cassiphone, Writing While the House is Messy:

I spend huge amounts of mental energy justifying time to myself. Allowing myself to feel okay about the things I do, and not beating myself up about taking that time away from other things. It is easier to balance these thoughts right now because a) I am being paid for my writing, thus it is a job and can reasonably be prioritised and b) I am caring for a five month old baby which means I am able to tell myself that anything I manage to contribute to the household beyond that is a bonus, not a necessity. Other years have been much harder for me to justify the amount of time/energy I put into the writing life above and beyond my family’s needs.

Also, Rachel Swirsky, "We know he's busy, but why didn't she clean the house?" thoughts on challenges faced by female writers:

There are any number of ways that systemic sexism interferes with women’s careers, but one of the most direct is time. Time spent on housework is time not spent on writing. Time spent on hair and clothes and makeup is time not spent on writing. If women put in more of this time (and overall in America, they do), then that’s fewer woman-hours that are available for writing stories. When we start to address unequal representation in magazines, it’s important to ask questions on the editorial level, the content level, the submissions level, and so on — but it’s also important to interrogate the gendered ways in which sexism blocks opportunities for writing to occur in the first place.

And more at Jeff Vandermeer's blog, Gender Roles and Writing. Ann Vandermeer comments:

There are definitely more societal expectations on women for household responsibilities, regardless of how far we may have come. I work a very demanding job outside the home, in addition to my volunteer work and editing/publishing projects. My husband works at home all day. And yet if our home isn’t kept clean and beautiful, if the yard is a mess, people tend to look askance at me, not even considering this is also Jeff’s responsibility.

If a woman supports her husband’s writing career, it’s expected, because traditionally a woman is SUPPOSED to support her man. However, when a man supports his wife’s writing, some look at it as a HUGH sacrifice and a favor and oh, what a great guy he is…blah blah blah. I am waiting for the day when both men and women who support their creative spouses get the credit due them.

Which actually all provide some interesting newer quotes for the chapter of Russ's. Maybe not so totally out of date after all.

In contrast, Charlotte Bronte is quoted on the subject as having said in 1837:
I carefully avoid any appearance or pre-occupation and eccentricity... I have endeavored not only attentively to observe the duties a woman ought to fulfill but to feel deeply interested in them. I don't always succeed, for sometimes when I'm teaching or sewing I would rather be reading or writing; but I try to deny myself.

It's an interesting thought ... instead of deciding that less women submit to SF magazines because they don't read or write SF, perhaps there are other reasons afoot. Personally I am most amused by Bronte's quote in the implication that not only are women not supposed to be writing but doing their "womanly duties", they're also supposed to be enthralled with such duties. Excuse me if I find floor washing and underpants rinsing banal.

I liked this quote by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea who in 1661 (and who was wealthy and had an understanding husband) said:

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen
Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed,
That fault can by no virtue be redeemed.

Chapter 2 is called "Bad Faith" and is short but highly pertinent to many discussions we've been in lately. It refers to what Jean Paul Sartre called "bad faith" - To slide into decisions without allowing oneself to realise that one's making any, to feel dimly that one is enjoying advantages without trying to become clearly aware of what these advantages are (and who hasn't got them), to accept mystifications because they're customary and comfortable, cooking one's mental books to congratulate oneself on traditional behavior as if it were actively moral behavior, to know that one doesn't know, to prefer not to know, to defend one's status as already knowing with half-sincere, half-selfish passion as "objectivity' - this great, fuzzy area of human ingenuity is what Jean Paul Sartre calls bad faith.

Essentially in this chapter Russ talks about not direct, conspiratorial racism and sexism but the kind that comes about through cultural conditioning. She talks about how we can't all reinvent the culture in which we live, that we must accept large chunks of it as it comes. She says:
At the level of the high culture with which this book is concerned, active bigotry is probably fairly rare. It is also hardly ever necessary, since the social context is far from neutral. To act in a way that is both sexist and racist, to maintain one's class privilege, it is only necessary to act in the customary, ordinary, usual, even polite manner.

I really enjoyed this chapter. I shouted YES at almost every sentence and it made me feel better because I didn't feel alone. Like what I have been discussing here on this blog, is not just me or us. That that the real problem (in the gender disparity in SF) isn't the outright overt sexism and racism, it's the embedded cultural, hidden biases.

Until next time, I'll finish with, I'd love to discuss this material but I will not be participating in any threads that lead back into Feminism 101 territory as per this blog post here - No More Feminism 101 Here


( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
At this point, Mrs Weasley entered the bedroom behind them.

"Still not finished?" she said, poking her head into the cupboard.

"I thought you might be here to tell us to have a break!" said Ron bitterly. "D'you know how much mould we've got rid of since we arrived here?"

"You were so keen to help the Order," said Mrs Weasley, "you can do your bit by making Headquarters fit to live in."

"I feel like a house-elf," grumbled Ron.

"Well, now you understand what dreadful lives they lead, perhaps you'll be a bit more active in SPEW [Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare]!" said Hermione hopefully, as Mrs Weasley left them to it. "You know, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to show people exactly how horrible it is to clean all the time - we could do a sponsored scrub of Gryffindor common room, all proceeds to SPEW, it would raise awareness as well as funds."

"I'll sponsor you to shut up about SPEW," Ron muttered irritably, but only so Harry could hear him.


So it seems J. K. Rowling hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a house-elf. Even if she's a very rich house-elf now =)

Jan. 30th, 2010 10:59 pm (UTC)
Also: I loathe the very concept of make-up and I am not looking forward to the day when my daughter goes to my sister or her stepsister asking for a lesson in covering up the face she was born with.

Jan. 31st, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
My mother didn't much wear it, and I don't either. She might not go down that road?
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
I don't wear lipstick, and for Raeli it has taken on a strange exoticism. She covered her mouth in texta the other day and it made me cry.
Feb. 2nd, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
Yes, but did you cry because she was succumbing to the hidden misogynism of the beauty industry? Or because you knew it would never wash off before school the next day?
Jan. 30th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
I suspect that a big reason she talks about historical examples is because it's a way to discuss these important things without having it taken up and interpreted as a personal attack on her contemporaries and peers. The fact that it inspired you to find current examples of relevance is awesome.

I have to catch up with you! I've been reading about Joanna but time to read more of the real thing.

My favourite HG Wells novel is called Ann Veronica, and it's about how hard it is for a woman without a patron (husband or father) to be a scientist at the turn of the (nineteenth to twentieth) century. It compares the relative ease of the Brontes etc, who needed to find time and space to write in but ultimately could write with their own resources - to perform science you need greater resources for that and an unmarried woman had at that time NO WAY to acquire said resources. He also shows how hard it was for unmarried women to do anything, including walking down the street on their own - at the time if you were not accompanied it was basically like wearing a 'whore' sign around your neck.

He didn't just think hard about alien invasions and time travel! This was an extraordinary feminist novel that shows how hard it is for women to navigate male chauvinism, and yet doesn't paint chauvinism as evil, but a thoughtless product of that point in time and society.
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
That sounds cool. Ta. *puts Ann Veronica on purchase list*

Jan. 31st, 2010 02:19 am (UTC)
I suspect that a big reason she talks about historical examples is because it's a way to discuss these important things without having it taken up and interpreted as a personal attack on her contemporaries and peers. The fact that it inspired you to find current examples of relevance is awesome.

Possibly so but it also opens up the argument that it's dated and not like this anymore.

I have to catch up with you! I've been reading about Joanna but time to read more of the real thing.
And I have to catch up with you! It's not a race and we can add to each other's reading by informing on the other half that we are yet to get to.

I might have to find that HG Wells book - it sounds good.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
Hee, yes, it's not a race. I may turn to How to Suppress Women's Writing first, though.

I think it's important to acknowledge the history of women's suppression in publishing/the arts and to show ways in which things have improved as well as the things that disturbingly have not - or again, opening up to criticism.

But yeah, want to read! Every time someone said something stupid, sexist and appalling on that Swancon thread last week, I went to my happy place and read 'on Joanna Russ' in quiet retaliation. It's a much healthier way to deal with internet anger than writing tag after tag of the same stuff I wrote last time people started talking about banning children from conventions...
Feb. 4th, 2010 04:43 am (UTC)
I think it'll be an interesting journey of reading that we've set ourselves this year
Jan. 31st, 2010 09:34 am (UTC)
It's interesting to note how many feminists H.G. Wells knew. Margaret Sanger and Rebecca West, for instance. I knew about West, but I'm looking at Wikipedia, and it seems he based Ann Veronica on Amber Reeves, herself a writer.
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:05 am (UTC)
I'm finding this discussion very interesting. I read your post on "Feminism 101" and realized just how much the definition of feminism must have changed in the 40 years or so since the issues were first brought forward. For the record, I'm 65, and the 1960s version of feminism shaped my life (for the beter, much much better, I might add.) This kind of concept definition change often results in confusion, frustration, anger etc in this kind of discussion, esp. when, as you say, someone is trying to derail the line of thought.

To be honest, I'm not really sure how you're using the words "Feminism" 101". I know two kinds, roughly. One we could call protest feminism, which is what started back in the 60s and concerned itself with hard practical matters like gaining access to credit and changing the mind of policemen about rap and domestic abuse. Then there is academic neo-feminism, which I find both boring and irrelevant, as it seems to consist mostly of analyzing words and phrases to "prove" that women have never been discriminated against.

Can I ask, where on this spectrum are you placing "feminism 101"? I don't mean to derail, but I'm honestly not sure.
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
About rape, not rap!!! Sorry.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
I guess where I am coming from is that often discussion on my blog has been moved away from the topic and hand and onto having to defend what and if there is sexism and also how men's feelings might be hurt if we turn around and point out specific examples.

I want to move the discussion out of that rut and into some more challenging spaces.
Jan. 31st, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Got it now. Thanks!

Jan. 31st, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I guess also the definition of feminism has to have moved in 40 years - and that's kind of exciting. Truthfully I don't have enough grounding in feminist theory and in part that is what this exercise in reading is about developing.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
For me the definition of Feminism 101 is - well, maybe it would be more properly be called Feminism Kindergarten. Too often, we don't get to discuss what Feminism is, or ideas to do with feminism, because too many people derail by arguing that it's not something we should even be talking about, or that maybe we meant to talk about something else, and isn't it mean to not include the men and be nice to them while we're at it?

I completely support GJ's stance on not stopping to explain too much of that aspect any more because even when people are well-meaning and want to understand, it can be harmful and distracting.

I think that the idea of linking back to the Feminism 101 post is to cut off the concept that we should have to justify having conversations about feminism every time.

I don't think there has ever been a single definition of feminism. There is overt political action, and then there is political belief and thoughts and discussions. There is practical feminism and theoretical feminism.

My only problem is when, as someone clever I can't remember said recently, the people who are defining feminism are those who are repudiating it. Too often it's the celebrity women who say they're not feminists, or the men who don't think it's necessary any more (if ever) who "explain" what the word means.

I'm always interested to hear new/old/other definitions of feminism from people who still think it's something worth talking about!
Jan. 31st, 2010 06:13 am (UTC)
I see what you mean by derailment. That's a great line, "the people who are defining it are those are repudiating it". I've seen several examples of that lately in other people's LJs. Damn right we shouldn't have to justify the discussions!
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
As for Russ being out of date, a couple of years ago I was posting over on a BBS called the SFRT. I mentioned Margaret Doody's book on the history of the novel, and other such work that's been done, and how it showed that women really invented the form we call "the novel", though men like Richardson and Fielding are usually credited with it.

A well-known critic of SF immediately replied, "Well, these women, I never heard of them." (As Russ says, they didn't really exist.) I gave sources as to their work and accomplishments. "Well, they can't have been very good," he said. Again, as Russ predicted. So alas, some of her examples aren't historical enough.
Jan. 31st, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
I love that book! I bought it randomly one time and found it amazing and enjoyable.
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
And then there's Tom Disch, whose last book of litcrit claimed that Mary Shelley couldn't possibly have invented the SF genre and who made up some specious "facts" to show why. The genre absolutely had to be invented by a man, namely Edgar Allan Poe, in his opinion.

That was what, about 3 or 4 years ago, I think?
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)
Hands off Mary Shelley, Dischead!

(Not that I don't like some of his work)

(Do I have to stop reading authors who tell me to get back in the kitchen? I'm thinking of Mr Card, just now.)

Jan. 31st, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
Oddly enough, Disch's best work was for kids, "The Brave Little Toaster" pair. I'm sure that means -something-.

Jan. 31st, 2010 04:43 am (UTC)
Ha, don't forget the whole 'well maybe Mary Shelley wrote it, but Percy and Byron had to have helped/inspired it' aspect.

People SUCK sometimes.

One of my favourite university courses was about women writing during the time of Shelley and I read some amazing articles about how - despite the fact that the book appears to be all about men - the story is essentially one of motherhood and miscarriage. Fascinating stuff.
Jan. 31st, 2010 05:47 am (UTC)
That is fascinating.

I remember bashing the 1994 movie of Frankenstein and wondering aloud why a story written by a woman had no women in it and was all about the evils of technology.

A friend turned around to me and said, "but don't you see, it's all about the evils of a world without women. It's about what would happen if men could create life without needing women."

"Oh," I said.

But I never really thought about Mary's miscarriage. Puts everything in a different light.

Jan. 31st, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)
Her mother died in childbirth, also.

I think the whole story is about the fear of giving birth to monstrous things.

(I also think that the fact that it has no overt women in it is a big part of how it slipped through the cracks of recognition, and was "allowed" to be seen as an important work along with Jekyll and Hyde, the work of Wells, etc.)
Jan. 31st, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
To be clearer, I am referring to the Disch book THE STUFF OUR DREAMS ARE MADE ON. I don't have a copy, so I may be wrong about a detail or two -- I sold it the day I finished it, I was so annoyed.

Anyway, he made several statements about Mary Shelley that any basic reference on English literature will prove wrong. First, he stated that Percy's parents paid for the publication of the book -- as if they would have parted with the cash, considering how shabbily they treated her and the children. This of course meant she was "not a real author." Second, he claimed that only a few people read it and thus its ideas had a strictly limited distribution. It was of course immensely popular.

There were a number of long-running plays in London, shortly after the book came out (and without paying her royalties) based on it, including a "penny dreadful" sort of version. People of all social classes talked about it, because the issue of "science out of control" was a hot one in the early 19th century.

Finally, he claimed that she'd never written anything else that could be called SF. Her last book was SF, THE STEAM MAN OF THE PRAIRIES.

Still, a number of male SF people that I knew tried to defend Disch's statements. They seemed to really need to believe that SF had been male in its provenance. I don' quite understand why.
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC)
I thought they dared her into writing it? As in they said women couldn't write really scary stories and so she said, I will. And did. ?
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, but the story is often framed so as to give them the credit for the book...
Jan. 31st, 2010 10:03 am (UTC)
In a 10:00am feminism 101 class I did several years back, we all had write down what we did between getting up and coming to class. The "women married with children" lists were the longest with everything from getting husband off to work, getting kids to school, to washing up, ironing husb's shirt and making sandwiches (for everyone). Single childless woman were a lot more personal, with daily make-up and get-ready routines. The one male in the class said, "got up, had a fag, came to class.

Then I did a research project interviewing" women with children" who were studying. The most common answer I got was: "when our husbands studied, everything had to fit in with their needs". "When we study, we must fit our needs around what everyone else needs." This was in about 2001. If" women with children" dared complained about this, the most common answer they got was "it was your choice to have children". Mind you, it was their husband's choice as well, but that didn't seem to count.
Jan. 31st, 2010 10:29 am (UTC)
Ha yes, funny how many people see having children as some kind of decadent first world luxury, akin to 'choosing' to keep peacocks - beautiful but otherwise an expensive, pointless hassle.

It occurs to me that such people really don't have much of an idea how society works... but then so many other people are on their side!

Bluemilk has an amazing post about the work women do that men don't see - and just what being a 'working' mother entails http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/sorry-is-our-struggle-stifling-your-productivity/
Jan. 31st, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
Thanks for that link Tansy. One other thing that people never saw (or maybe didn't admit to seeing) was the number of hours sleep I missed out on at night. But as people would often tell me "it was my choice to breastfeed" , despite the baby's wakefullness having nothing to do with hunger. ;)
Jan. 31st, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC)
HA never mind that breastfeeding is actually the most time-efficient way to feed. (people said that to you? people should be slapped)

Missing the sleep is insane-inducing. I've been so lucky with my second baby, the badly broken sleep hasn't continued after the first 3 months. We're still two months away from the age that my first baby slept through the night for the first time...
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC)
>(people said that to you? people should be slapped)

That was over 20 years ago. In my family, I was pretty much the odd one out.
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
I must admit, when compiling the quotes for this post, I thought how often I complain I don't have a lot of time because i juggle full time job and TPP but I also am well aware that that's a luxury - that TPP is a luxury for me because I DO have the time to allocate to it. I also wonder about how much I could develop and grow TPP if I had more people to care for.
Jan. 31st, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
Your time is your time, though - and you choose how to spend it. The balance won't always be the same. If you had kids, or other people to care for in other ways, chances are the balance would be different, though not necessarily in the ways you think.

TPP might not be the thing you sacrificed. Or maybe no sacrifice would be needed...

Running a small press from home, for example, is a far more flexible job than anything outside the home...

You already make sacrifices to make room for TPP - leisure time, reading time, etc. On the other hand, you seem to be at your happiest when you are completely busy.
Feb. 4th, 2010 04:41 am (UTC)
It's true I am at my happiest when busy but not, as it turns out, when overcommitted. I think I am just aware how much time and the sacrifices are make for TPP and that, in different circumstances, I might not be able to make them.

Also that working from home has its own complications to do with time management and expectations.
Feb. 4th, 2010 04:53 am (UTC)
It's true you might not always be able to make those sacrifices - but you're at a crucial stage with TPP. If it fulfils your hopes and becomes a viable job for you, then maintaining its success may require less frantic energy than building it in the first place.

Also if you reach the point you want to reach, you may have real employees to do a lot of the grunt work instead of you wearing quite so many hats!
Feb. 4th, 2010 04:57 am (UTC)
That's the dream, baby, that's the dream
Jan. 31st, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Have you read Arlie Hothchild's THE SECOND SHIFT?
Jan. 31st, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Oops, I sent that before I'd finished. Anyway, it's a fairly recent book discussing the Housework Question. I may be misspelling her last name.

I chose not to have children because I wanted a writing career, and I knew that I personally was incapable of doing both well. But I repeat, that was only a personal choice. (I ended up taking care of house and husband anyway, but at least now that he's retired he does a lot of the work around here.)

Feb. 1st, 2010 03:58 am (UTC)
Thanks for that - I'll have a look out for that book.
Feb. 1st, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
"That that the real problem (in the gender disparity in SF) isn't the outright overt sexism and racism, it's the embedded cultural, hidden biases."

There's also overt sexism and racism that's in other fields, instead of being directly in the SF writing/publishing sphere. People don't write science-focussed science fiction unless they have an interest in science, and it's hard to have much interest in science without role models. The proportion of female scientists drops dramatically at each step up the career ladder, partly because of things like this:


The scariest bit is the comment on the end about the mnemonic to remember color codes on resistors, and the followup info in the wkipedia article (black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, white). Apparently, to avoid giving offense, the 'politically incorrect' mnemonic "Black boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly" is usually given as the one she was told to memorise, "Bad boys rape our young girls but..."

To be fair on the field in general, I'd never come across that mnemonic or any of its variants until I read that post...
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