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Recently, I've been really weary.

I'm tired of anger being something that is inherently negative. I'm tired of us being afraid of anger as if it will bring everything crumbling down around us. I'm especially tired of people who screw up getting to weasel out of accountability because a woman got angry. I'm tired of being expected to let ignorant commentary stand because arguments are stressful. Well, being called names; insulted; misrepresented; told that your problems don't actually exist; told that you should just stop talking about them; told that you don't understand the real problem; and told that problems you've spent months arguing and proving again and again are just a bunch of nonsense? Those things are stressful. If I had to count the times I've been silenced because some dude didn't like that he had to deal with the consequences of an anger he caused I could probably discover the next prime number.

At times, anger is useful. It creates change, it shakes things up, it makes people uncomfortable, and sometimes people deserve to be uncomfortable, namely when they're participating in systems that deny the experiences of other groups.

I haven't had a comfort-filled jaunt to most of the social and cultural knowledge I've acquired, and I imagine I'll continue to face multiple instances of extreme discomfort as I keep learning. Why shouldn't I? Discomfort is the result of a type of mistake that teaches you empathy for other human beings. Being angry at each other is not the end of the world, the end of personal connection, or the destruction of relationships. It's not automatically disrespectful. Being angry doesn't automatically mean we hate each other and are required to enter into a passive aggressive feud. Anger is like any other emotion we use to work through a problem.

I've been mired in discussions of sexism in SF/F since last December, when I started the review coverage project for 2012. I wrote an essay. I was called names, my blog was deliberately misnamed to mock me and my co-editors, and I was insulted (mostly by men). I got angry and responded. I wrote a guest post for an unrelated project and felt a little better about myself and my place in the community. Then I read another guest post and felt a little worse. I engaged on that post. Then I apologized because this kind of argument wasn't what the project was about, but the fact that my anger was being used against me by men who I have seen be nothing but problematic in discussions of gender in the past year made me furious. I rescinded all apologies because I'm actually not sorry about telling a dude he was participating in awful behavior toward women in a space dedicated to discussing representation of women in a specific community. I'm tired of feeling as if I have to respond to my valid anger and sarcasm and frustration with screaming guilt and shame and feeling as if I've failed.

Women in SF&F Month is ostensibly about women and how we participate in and interact with SF/F culture: our experiences as writers, our experiences as fans, and our experiences as critics. It's a wonderful project, and I know, from running projects like it in the past, that it is an immense amount of work done for free by Kristen and the women who contributed. However, just because we build a project or participate in a project for the love of a fandom doesn't mean we're immune to the consequences of our words and decisions — in fact, the nature of the project means if we let problematic commentary stand, we're undermining ourselves. If the project is about women's experiences, which often include sexism — both deliberate and cultural — and inform our positions, what is its legacy when we fail to call out any sexism that occurs from within? Creating a safe space doesn't mean people can't get angry. There's safe spaces for people to learn, and then there are spaces that shelter and breed ignorance under the guise of safety, and do this by ostracizing allies.

The failure of the essay is summed up by Foz Meadows's examination of the original post's problems. The fact that the initial response was so uncritical and that later criticism was framed (mostly on Twitter) as if it was the problem is indicative of why these conversations need to happen and why we still need to create spaces for and about women and then defend them, even if it's the participants in these spaces making the mistakes. I'm disappointed in the post, in many of the responses to it, and in myself that I was ashamed of being angry even though I know I shouldn't be.

Ana offered me a different perspective:

I can’t help but think that the guilt, and the shame, and the feelings of failure that we were left with are us slipping into the roles that Bastard guy assigned us. Let’s think for a moment of how very different the discussion would have been if he hadn’t been around. I look at that comments thread, and I don’t think me or Ana or anyone else started out being unkind to Sarah. And then he steps into the picture, and what does he do? What I really, really resent is how he successfully paints us as the bad guys by keeping his tone falsely level all the way through. Sure, he sounds oh so reasonable — he speaks with the bewildered calm of a privileged person for whom this conversation has absolutely zero tangible consequences. He can afford to sound level-headed, because none of this has any bearing on his life. But even so, his even tone is false — it’s something he uses to mask the fact that his comments are toxic. They do us harm because they paint us as people we are not. They distort our words and force us into the role of the bully, while he’s left sounding calmly hurt that no one was up for a bit of honest discussion. His discourse is full of rhetorical poison, and if we sounded overtly angry, it’s only because we were calling shenanigans on that and pointing out that the emperor was naked. We cut through the bullshit, through this mask of politeness he was trying to maintain while playing dirty trick after dirty trick. And what are we left with? One guy who’s probably laughing, and several women — you, me, Ana, Kristen, Sarah herself too, I imagine — who are left feeling hurt, guilty, ashamed and confused.


That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

I'm frustrated that certain people are allowed to walk into spaces created by and about women and be offensive and hurtful under the guise of "honest discussion" and "playing devil's advocate" with little to no consequence, but that I'm denied any safe space because of people like the editor of Bastard Books, or by Mihir Wanchoo, who elsewhere in the post engages in his own adventurous derailing. Perhaps they have no interest in being allies; to me it seems they, and men like them, have very little interest in listening to the voices of women in all their iterations: patient, humorous, angry, tired, resigned, friendly, or excited, and taking their advice. Instead they talk, and keep talking, and in the end say they didn't "intend" to cause a problem. I am so not interested in their intentions; their actions are enough.

This stuff is everywhere, slimy and gross. If I get angry where it exists outside my personal spaces, I often destroy my relationships with people I like who own those spaces, or get painted as a hysterical jerk who overreacts. I don't know what the solution is. But I know it's not to apologize for calling out behavior when the people participating in the behavior fling around words like "attacking", "castigating", and "hurling accusations" because they don't know how to accept and process criticism; I won't make that mistake again. They're not victims of women being unreasonable or unfair and they're not victims of an Internet brawl, they're victims of their own ignorance and unwillingness to learn.

There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life. — The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck

Date: 2013-05-09 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] smugglerana
Thank you for writing this. I saw all of it unfold and as you know, went through the stages of dismay, discomfort, anger, extreme guilt then anger again.

"the nature of the project means if we let problematic commentary stand, we're undermining ourselves. If the project is about women's experiences, which often include sexism — both deliberate and cultural — and inform our positions, what is its legacy when we fail to call out any sexism that occurs from within?"

I think this is the gist of what I came away with after these events and I regret that for a moment there, I almost opted for silence.

Date: 2013-05-17 04:38 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm a little late to comment on this, but this was an incredibly powerful reflection that expressed so many things that I could never have explained but felt all the same. Anger IS important, and it's so frustrating to be ignored or silenced because anger is not "productive." Thank you--and I hope you don't mind if I link to it from my blog! Let me know if not.

Anna
thefemininemediastique.wordpress.com

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