Sometimes, when I talk about “white people” in front of actual white people, there’s this pause…this moment of awkward. It’s a combination of “Did she just call out our skin color?” and “But…we’re people.” Yes. Welcome to my world on a daily basis. How does it feel? That, my friends, is the luxury of being the default in the western world. “People” means “white.” “American” means “white.” The “reader” is white. The “audience” is white. It’s the baseline, the normal…and why would you point that out?
That’s EXACTLY why I point it out. Because “people” should encompass everyone, but it doesn’t.
“Being The Default is the largest privilege granted to white Americans, yet it is so deeply entrenched it is the most invisible,” says Kartina Richardson in this April 24 article on Salon. And she’s right. Because it’s there in everyday speech, in the simplest of words: “us,” “we,” “them.” In the South Asian and South Asian American community, elders still say “Amrikan” to mean “white,” even if they themselves are citizens and their children identify as American. Because it’s the norm, the bottom line — and, often, the aspiration.
There’s this unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, sense that the only true western legitimacy, in terms of success, place and identity, is in whiteness. Everything else is the Other. “Black people.” “Indian people.” To just be people is the goal, the driving force of ambition. Too bad that slot is occupied…largely by folks who don’t even realize they have it.
It would be nice to never, ever have to specify someone’s race, ethnicity or skin tone. It really would. To just be like, “Duh. This is a person. With a name. A history. An individual identity.” I’ve been fighting that linguistic battle my whole life. But as long as Default privilege keeps fighting back, the deck is stacked. As long as “everybody” and “anybody” is presumed to be white…nobody wins.
J.J. Abrams’ second installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise delivers classic geekery at warp speed, ratcheting up the action sequences, the rapid-fire dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments and the poignant emotionalism at the root of Spock and Kirk’s famous friendship. It’s a film that any fan of the TV shows and prior films will enjoy, rife as it is with in-jokes and shout-outs and a gorgeous flip of a truly memorable sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, it’s another sort of flip that holds Star Trek Into Darkness in limbo: the controversial casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s central villain.
Consider this lovely image your spoiler space.
I’ve been attending conventions and conferences since I was a teenager. I’ve been to fan cons, to professional conferences, to spaces where men dominated and to ones where women empowered each other and created unforgettable bonds. Coming back from the 2013 RT Booklovers Convention, at which I worked as a representative of RT Book Reviews magazine, I have a lot of Thoughts about gender dynamics and safe spaces. (I can’t promise I’ll articulate any of them adequately!)
RT gals–me, Regina, Elissa, Elisa, Liz and Donna–all dressed up!
I have never felt safer at a convention than when I’m at one for women’s media. It’s such a sisterhood. A shared joy. A meeting of minds and passions. Be it soaps or romance, that is when you’ll see me at my most Me. (Assuming I’m not sleep-deprived and/or hysterical from nerves.)
And I can tell you exactly when I begin to feel diminished: when a man, SO aware of his Mighty Thunderstick, holds court and treats me like a silly little girl. I go from being a competent writer and editor, and proud published author, to an interloper in a boys’ club. I hear my voice get higher in response. I feel dumber. I feel naked. I feel like someone just took my safe space, and my brain, away from me. It’s pretty awful.
Author John Scalzi*, whom RT honored with a Reviewers’ Choice award for his science fiction novel Redshirts, was not part of a boys’ club. Neither was writer Andrew Shaffer. They were allies; they acted as part of the greater community, happy to be included in a group of women, not to rule it. They may be controversy magnets on the Internet (and who isn’t?) but, in person, they couldn’t be more welcoming and welcomed. It was just really cool to have them there. Not as men, not as dudes, but as people. Like the rest of us.
Ah, the ‘70s and ‘80s bodice ripper era…when men were men and women were raped. The romance community likes to filter it through a rose-colored rearview mirror, chased by alternating mild chagrin and feminist horror. But more than 30 years later, those misogynist underpinnings of forced seduction romance — mostly overpinnings, if we’re being honest — are alive and well. Be it the sheikhs and tycoons that populate the Harlequin Presents line, J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, the plethora of motorcycle club contemporary romance and club-owning Dom BDSM erotica or your Christian Greys and Gideon Crosses, the controlling alpha-male asshole protagonist hasn’t gone anywhere.
The argument one could make, of course, is that female characters have sexual agency in all of these books. They like being treated poorly (i.e. “challenged”) and told what to do as long as they get off and get their Happy Ever After. But that’s no different from old-school forced-seduction, than the sexual revolution happening on the page long before Kristen Ashley starting burning up the Amazon charts. It didn’t matter if a heroine got roofied and locked in a trunk or kidnapped and tied up in a wigwam, she always had an orgasm. The highly questionable, but tried-and-true, “No, no, no…yes!”
When I was in my late teens, visiting Calcutta (this was pre-”Kolkata” conversion, not that renaming a place changes its ethos), I was groped by a guy as my cousins, my mom and I stood on a curb waiting to cross over to a shopping mall. Stunned, I whirled around and glared — I was so shocked that the expletive-laden tongue I’ve cultivated in the nearly 20 years since was struck silent. He locked gazes with me, defiant, those coal-black eyes unrepentant, as he vanished into the crowd.
Yes, I still remember his eyes. His pencil-thin mustache. The abject hatred for a girl he didn’t even know but felt he had to touch. What I also remember is the mix of empathy and shrugging from many female family members. “Oh, I’ve been groped xyz times…” was the refrain. Everybody had an assault story. As though we were trading campfire tales, because it’s so normal for Indian women to experience unwanted touches.
That’s what it was couched as: normal, every-day behavior from men that just had to be endured and accepted. I would roam the para, our neighborhood, with my cousin sisters and we would, without fail, pass packs of young men clustering on street corners and staring at us like prey. We walked a little faster, made scornful comments to stave off our fear, but there was nothing we could do to stop how they looked at us and, more than that, how they saw us. Like meat.
Almost 20 years later, it’s still an issue…that gaze. That hatred. “The India rape case” trumpets western media in headlines, as if there’s just the one…but there are multitudes. From rape to street harassment and forced touching, I honestly don’t know a woman who has lived in/visited South Asia who hasn’t been victimized or depersonalized in one form or another. I haven’t heard all the campfire stories, but that’s because women aren’t generally encouraged to tell them. After all, why would you acknowledge something commonplace? “It’s raining today, I went to the bajaar and, oh, some creep felt me up on the metro.”
I’m reading a series right now that I’m really enjoying — except for its portrayal of race, particularly through the lens of its first-person narration. It’s textbook depersonalizing, fetishistic, racefail — accurate for the time and the character’s head space, but not exactly sunshine and roses for the reader. And I’m torn: On the one hand, I think it’s completely legitimate to write period-appropriate world views. Someone living 200 years ago is not going to have the values of a person living now. On the other, when it comes to speculative fiction, I can’t help but feel like it’s a “Fireflycation” of the environment: taking the grit, the grime, the shiny bits and pieces of these things you want to use but then ignoring everything else.
Joss Whedon’s beloved, canceled space opera Firefly used elements of Chinese language and culture in its mythology, with nary an actual East Asian person to be found in the principal or guest cast. The excuse being what…? That it’s the near-future? A non-Earth? If you’re already going the extra mile to create this universe, then you can create the East Asian equivalent to populate it. Nothing is stopping you.
And that’s sort of how I feel about genre fiction: When you’re already taking leaps…involving vampires, werewolves, airships and zombies, is it really some sort of deal-breaker to be culturally sensitive? Does “It’s not period appropriate for these characters to be enlightened” really matter when they’re doing all sorts of other period inappropriate things?
Mitt Romney’s running mate for the 2012 Presidential election has QUITE the checkered past. How in the world did he get vetted?
1. As a teen, he lost his virginity to his father’s former mistress. Admittedly, they’re happily married now, but that’s a rather questionable start to a romance, wouldn’t you say?
2. From 1986 to 1991, he looked like this:
3. His father is an internationally wanted criminal and also Swedish royalty. It is entirely possible Ryan himself is not an American citizen. Has anyone seen his long form birth certificate?
4. He’s been married five times, presumed dead at least twice and also kidnapped his infant daughter, Eliza.
5. Dead girl. Rose garden. You do the math.
5a. Dead girl named Rose. You do the math.
6. Ryan briefly had a microchip implanted in his brain, which controlled his behavior. He has also suffered from amnesia.
7. Ryan’s mother, designer Barbara Ryan, is married to his half-brother, Henry Coleman.
8. Ryan bears a startling resemblance to Pennsylvania newspaper magnate and ex-con Todd Manning:
Is this a man we want in the White House?
(Compared to the real Paul Ryan? ABSO-frickin-LUTELY.)
It’s with a sort of numb horror that I’m thinking about how, the same week that the Internet explodes with condemnation of Daniel Tosh and his crass gang rape joke about a female heckler at a comedy club, a young woman was attacked by a mob in Guwahati, India, while a camera crew recorded the assault. Tosh’s target went home and shared the incident on social media. Reactions spread like wildfire through Twitter, and to the news media. In so many instances, in every country in the world, it’s not just an offensive joke and the woman never gets home.
I’m not trying to dismiss the Tosh situation as trivial in comparison to actual sexual assault — although, I do think there are issues of privilege at play; we have the luxury, in America, of calling out misogynistic humor — it’s more a sad, disgusted acknowledgment that rape culture is cross-culture. It doesn’t really matter where you are. It doesn’t matter how developed the nation is. Are you a woman outside your house? Someone thinks you deserve to be raped. Do you have a job? Someone thinks you deserve to be raped. Did you accidentally look at a man? Someone thinks you deserve to be raped. There will always be a group of men who think the simple act of breathing means a woman is “asking for it.” It’s a pandemic of ignorance, this idea that the genetic lottery of being born a woman means you are a lesser creature.
You’ve pretty much had to be living under a rock to not hear about Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, which opens in U.S. theaters tomorrow. Loosely based on the life of lead actor Channing Tatum, from its promo campaign you could safely assume it’s two hours of nonstop thongs and gyrations. “Plot, what plot?” is the question that keeps coming to mind. Of course, since it’s a Soderbergh picture, you can actually expect there to be a story … not that it matters one bit. The PR blitz has been selling sex from the get-go, and the target audience for the sales pitch, women, have been whipping out their dollars to buy it.
Cue the pearl-clutching, the nay-saying, some people uncomfortable with male sexuality being exploited in such a flagrant manner. No, don’t laugh, that last one is a legitimate concern. Stripping, while it’s been considered more and more empowering with pole-based workouts and interest in burlesque, is hardly the most equalizing and enlightened of professions. No matter who is taking off their clothes.
Look, I’m not going to claim any moral high ground because I’ve spent the last couple of weeks shamelessly staring at shirtless pictures of Matt Bomer and Joe Mangianello. It’s all a little icky. I’ve never been one of those people who thinks something isn’t an “ist” or an “ism” if it’s being perpetuated by an oppressed minority. Objectification is problematic all around. Is it sexist to be reducing the cast of Magic Mike to pieces of meat? Hell yeah. Is it gross to slow down every time I pass the shirtless athlete-emblazoned covers of Jaci Burton’s sizzling Play-By-Play series? You bet. But guess what…? Welcome to our world. It’s nothing women don’t face on a daily basis from men … except that we’re doing it in a far less personal context. Rewinding a red band trailer, or clicking through a slideshow, is not claiming any sort of ownership over what we’re looking at.
It’s 2012, and we’re still having a world-wide conversation about women’s sexuality. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t get it either. So, allow me to throw my .02 cents in the ring with a resounding “What in the ever-loving HELL is going on around here?”
I wish I could tie this all up in a neat package and lay it at the feet of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey – blame/thank this trilogy for stirring up the hornet’s net after Lisbeth Salander kicked it. But as a former soap opera journalist and current editor at a romance novel magazine, I’m well aware that female-centric media and women’s desires have always come under fire. It doesn’t matter if you’re Anais Nin or SamDeanLuvr12 on Fanfiction.Net; it doesn’t matter if you’re watching General Hospital or Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon or Verbotene Liebe, someone’s going to judge you. And by “someone,” I mean men. Or, at least, the male-driven media machine and the societal voice that seems to come from a deeper register than the average female one.