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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?
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jo1967 - Feb. 2nd, 2010 06:28 am (UTC) - Expand
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*

(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Feb. 4th, 2010 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ide_cyan - Jan. 31st, 2010 09:34 am (UTC) - Expand
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.
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Jan. 31st, 2010 06:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 02:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Jan. 31st, 2010 06:13 am (UTC) - Expand
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.)

(no subject) - aberwyn - Jan. 31st, 2010 06:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 04:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jan. 31st, 2010 05:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 08:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Jan. 31st, 2010 07:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 31st, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
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/
(no subject) - carolryles - Jan. 31st, 2010 11:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carolryles - Jan. 31st, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 31st, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Jan. 31st, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Feb. 4th, 2010 04:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cassiphone - Feb. 4th, 2010 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Feb. 4th, 2010 04:57 am (UTC) - Expand
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.)

(no subject) - girliejones - Feb. 1st, 2010 03:58 am (UTC) - Expand
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...
( 43 comments — Leave a comment )

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