Posts tagged with "culture" - Faerye Net 2012-09-10T12:53:14+00:00 Felicity Shoulders I am not a Puzzle Box 2012-09-10T12:53:14+00:00 2012-09-16T22:50:43+00:00 <h2>Background</h2> <p>There&#8217;s been a lot of talk recently about sexual harassment at spec fic conventions, and in fandom generally. <a href="" target="links">A case of harassment at Readercon and mishandling of it</a> brought this discussion up from a simmer. There have been amazing related posts like Captain Awkward&#8217;s <a href="" target="links">response to two letters about creepy acquaintances</a>, which did a great job of explaining the links between seemingly innocuous creepiness and obvious sexual threat. Another great one was John Scalzi&#8217;s <a href="" target="links">Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping</a>, which tried to address the defensiveness from many male geeks on the topic and show that not being creepy isn&#8217;t rocket science. That defensiveness is predictable: it&#8217;s a dynamic I, and probably most geek feminists, are familiar with.</p> <p>This is all happening against a backdrop of gender- and race-fail in fandom, backlash against women in fandom (have you heard of <a href="" target="links">&#8220;fake geek girls&#8221;</a>?) and of course, the charming War on Women in the wider world.</p> <h2>Metaphor</h2> <p>A long time ago, I used to hang out on a discussion forum for gamers, in the general geekery section. There were recurring discussions about geek gender relations &#8212; about straight male geeks&#8217; sexual frustrations, and about female geeks&#8217; profound discomfort in many situations. In short, the same topic online fandom is mulling over now, with the same cast of characters and list of motivations and conflicts.</p> <p>This is the metaphor I came up with then, to explain why I (and other women) get creeped out, and how behavior some men think is innocuous seems creepy or even threatening to the recipient:</p> <center><strong>Some men see women as puzzle boxes.</strong></center> <p>As far as they&#8217;re concerned, inside every woman, there&#8217;s a tasty Sex Treat&trade;, and there&#8217;s <em>some way</em> to get it out. Some combination of words, of behaviors on the man&#8217;s part, some situation will pop that box open and <em>the treat will be his!</em></p> <p>Like every belief, this one has implications and consequences. A puzzler may continue to try and try and try to get a woman to sleep with him, testing different approaches and permutations, sure that the perfect solution exists &#8212; when in fact, he&#8217;s just being terrifyingly persistent in hitting on someone who he&#8217;s already completely alienated. He may learn generalized techniques from pickup artist websites or books, which make perfect sense to him because they use the same sort of puzzle/treat logic &#8212; and then find that real women he interacts with don&#8217;t respond as he anticipated, or even get offended, when he tries out his new techniques. A frustrated puzzler may stay in a platonic relationship with a woman hoping to stumble onto a way to get the treat, when he isn&#8217;t interested in the friendship for its own sake.</p> <p>And here&#8217;s the thing. While she may not know what to call it, a woman can often sense that a man believes her to be a puzzle box. He&#8217;s breaking Rule #4 in <a href="" target="links">Scalzi&#8217;s post</a>, &#8220;Acknowledge that other people do not exist just for your amusement/interest/desire/use.&#8221; He is talking to her, but <em>thinking</em> about how to get her Sex Treat&trade;.</p> <p>There are two big problems with the Puzzle Box model of woman. The first one you can probably guess, and I&#8217;ve just implied it when I note that women can tell a man&#8217;s thinking of them that way:</p> <center><strong>Women are people, not puzzle boxes.</strong></center> <p>Women don&#8217;t like being treated as interchangeable, or as the means to an end, or an obstacle in the way of someone&#8217;s desire, any more than anyone else would. Most puzzler-types would scoff at the idea that they&#8217;re treating women as interchangeable, but no, the fact that you value the sex treat or the victory more highly if the box has an attractive exterior, or if it hadn&#8217;t been opened before, or if it was particularly tricky, isn&#8217;t flattering. You are treating a sentient individual as an instance of a game. It&#8217;s disgusting.</p> <p>The second problem is a little more subtle, but its power is why I like this metaphor so much (besides the precise way it describes the feeling I get when a guy is talking to me but his brain is obviously listening to imagined tumblers in my locking mechanism).</p> <center><strong>Sex is not an item.</strong></center> <p>Sex is not a treat, it&#8217;s not a prize: it&#8217;s an activity people do <em>together</em>. When a man (or anyone else) focuses on it as an object to win, he is constructing his sexual world in a flawed and unethical way. If all that matters is that he <em>wins</em>, that he finds a way of <em>getting that treat out of that woman</em>, then the quality of her consent doesn&#8217;t matter to him.</p> <p>I&#8217;m not trying to be hyperbolic here, and I&#8217;m not trying to be vituperative: but logically, the Puzzle Box approach is on a continuum with rape. Each puzzler has a toolbox they use to approach a new puzzle box. One has flattery, pokes at self-esteem, dares, intense eye contact. One also uses <a href="" target="links">pushing of physical boundaries</a>, false teaming, buying her a couple of drinks, telling her she&#8217;s leading him on and owes him sex. One also uses the implied threat of his large and imposing frame, isolating her, getting her drunk. One also uses drugs, and social threat, and his strength and greater weight&#8230; You get the picture.</p> <p>When a woman senses a man sees her as a puzzle box, <em>she does not know</em> if he is a harmless guy with some stupid notions, or a self-taught pickup artist steeped in internet misogyny but who has a rudimentary ethical compass, or a guy who will rape her if he has plausible deniability but not otherwise, or <a href="" target="links">that self-aware serial rapist who posted on Reddit</a>.</p> <p>She doesn&#8217;t know whether he&#8217;s just going to annoy her with a constant attempt to load his save-game and retry with a bunch of corny lines and pushy suggestions; or stalk her on the internet trying to figure out the cheat code to open her pants; or grope her in an attempt to break her boundaries; or rape her. She does not know what he&#8217;s willing to do to get the treat. All she knows is that he sees her as an obstacle and her sex as an object. And why the fuck would she want to spend any time with him, even if he&#8217;s harmless, knowing that?</p> <h2>Takeaway</h2> <p>If you&#8217;re reading this and you have a puzzle box mentality, it doesn&#8217;t mean you&#8217;re a bad person. I&#8217;m not saying you&#8217;re a rapist when I say this mentality is part of a continuum with rape &#8212; I&#8217;m saying you&#8217;re part of a society which enables and includes rape. We all are. We don&#8217;t grow to adulthood in individual stasis boxes, creating all our attitudes ourselves. The idea of women as puzzle boxes &#8212; which is related to the ideas that women don&#8217;t actually want sex and just have to regulate men&#8217;s access to it, and to the idea of women as the sex class, the people whose bodies <em>carry</em> sex and <em>mean</em> sex &#8212; is embedded deep in our culture.</p> <p>Stop thinking about sex as a prize. Start thinking about it as something fun you&#8217;re doing with someone else who wants to have fun too. Don&#8217;t think of consent as something you can win either &#8212; or as a lid you&#8217;ve managed to get open. Consent should be desire and enthusiasm. Consent should be active and joyful. <a href="" target="links">It isn&#8217;t complicated.</a> You&#8217;re not looking for a cheat code, or a combination, or a series of moves that reveal the shortest way to the end of the puzzle. You&#8217;re looking for a human who wants to have fun with you &#8212; which actually makes this <em>way easier</em> because you can have fun with people before sex <em>ever comes up</em>, so you don&#8217;t even have to focus on sex as a goal. Fun is your goal &#8212; your fun and other people&#8217;s, which can be mutual and amazing!</p> <p>I think most of us would rather live in a world of people than of puzzle boxes, anyway.</p> <p><strong>Edited 9/16 to add:</strong> <em>Comments on this piece are now closed due to the time constraints of my offline life. Thank you to everyone who contributed and shared!</em></p> Identify yourself 2009-02-08T21:31:25+00:00 2009-02-08T21:43:43+00:00 <p>I&#8217;ve mentioned my discomfiture with the term &#8216;white&#8217; and its pseudo-scientific relative &#8216;Caucasian&#8217; <a href="" target="internal">on at least one occasion</a>. &#8216;White&#8217; is a false monolith of assimilated, &#8216;non-ethnic&#8217; culture. It&#8217;s also, in one sense, a useful diagnostic term: I&#8217;m white, because I have <a href="" target="links">white privilege</a>. I think it&#8217;s worth acknowledging that privilege, even though I would love to tear it down along with the nonsense, &#8216;unmarked&#8217; category.*</p> <p>I thought I&#8217;d accepted that definition: I have white privilege, I acknowledge it by admitting I&#8217;m white. But on a panel at <a href="" target="internal">Orycon</a>, I came up short. It was a panel on using non-European folklore in fiction, and the moderator asked each of the panelists to sketch her (and in one case, his) background, personal and artistic. I was last, and she turned to me and said, &#8220;And, Felicity, you identify as white, right?&#8221;</p> <p>I sat there, opened and closed my mouth. Eventually, some words managed to tumble out, probably to the effect that yes, I am white. I felt stunned for a few minutes, not to mention (still) quite embarrassed for turning incoherent in front of a room full of people. It seemed so silly. How was this any different from <a href="" target="internal">the aforementioned &#8216;ethnicity&#8217; checkbox</a>? Wasn&#8217;t this a ludicrous reaction on my part?</p> <p>I&#8217;ve managed to convince myself that it wasn&#8217;t. &#8216;Identify&#8217;. It&#8217;s a loaded term in these contexts. Perhaps the most well-known example these days, known even to those of us who haven&#8217;t (<em>yet!</em>) read <a href="" target="powells"><em>Dreams from my Father</em></a>, is President Obama&#8217;s identification as African-American. The media&#8217;s obsessed debate over his racial identity showed that people think this kind of thing is mutable, but most agree that it&#8217;s fundamentally Obama&#8217;s right to mediate his own racial affiliation. Naming has power, and self-naming is particularly heady. From race to political inclination to gender and sexual politics, people self-describe and self-categorize: feminist or <a href="" target="links">womanist</a>, gay or <a href="" target="links">same gender loving</a>, disabled person or person with disabilities: these distinctions are meaningful, often crucially so, to those making them. You cannot stop others labeling you, or understanding you according to their own rubrics, but you can choose your terms. You can define yourself.</p> <p>For me, this question of ethnic identity is not so simple as &#8216;do you have white privilege?&#8217; To say that it is is to wipe away the traditions from which my ancestors rose. It&#8217;s affirming and embracing the false homogeneity of white mainstream culture. It&#8217;s not as simple as my <span class="caps">DNA</span>. I have drops of blood from places only recently discovered by my grandmother&#8217;s genealogical excavations, and gouts of it from cultures deliberately put aside and denied by my forebears. Those contributions to who I am may be too far back, or too far away, or too small, to claim. My identity is something I am still making, something I am naming based on an interplay of factors.</p> <p>But if I could go back and whisper in my own ear at that panel, I would say: &#8220;I identify as Welsh-English-Irish-French.&#8221; Yes, it&#8217;s long, and complex, and messy. But it&#8217;s true. I have studied those cultures, histories, even languages, and they are part of who I am. I am not unmarked. I mark myself.</p> <p>*I&#8217;m pretty interested in this concept of &#8216;markedness&#8217;, as it applies to people and types of writing. It&#8217;s what I was trying to get at with my post <a href="" target="internal">&#8220;Maleness is the human default.&#8221;</a></p> Overquotage 2008-06-03T12:13:14+00:00 2008-06-03T12:16:48+00:00 <p>It&#8217;s been said to me (to my shame, I forget where or by whom) that great works of art &mdash; say, Hokusai&#8217;s wave painting, or &#8220;Starry Night&#8221; &mdash; have been diminished by their popularity. They are pictured over and over, often in trivial form: tote bag, mousepad, dorm room posters. Through this repetition and even the contemptible familiarity of adorning mugs, placemats and magnets, they lose their original impact. They become symbols rather than art objects: in some cases, their meaning is as simple as &#8220;Mona Lisa = culture.&#8221;</p> <p>I think the same thing can occur with literature. There is a passage I love in T.S. Eliot&#8217;s <em>Four Quartets</em> which is quoted often. I&#8217;ve almost not written this blog post because I don&#8217;t want to be part of the over-repetition problem. But let&#8217;s just say that the quote is about returning home and recognition. I&#8217;m sure you&#8217;ve heard it. It&#8217;s printed on posters of pretty landscapes, and on artsy greeting cards. It has probably appeared on quote-of-the-day calendars. If you need any more clues, it is usually quoted from &#8220;We shall not cease from exploration&#8221;.</p> <p>This quote begin the first stanza of &#8220;Little Gidding&#8221; V, on the very last page of the long, beautiful, interwoven <em>Quartets</em>. Reading these poems is rigorous but rewarding intellectual and, for me, emotional work, and that quote is and was an arrival, a culmination. It isn&#8217;t merely &#8216;true&#8217; or &#8216;inspiring&#8217;, in context it is a revelation, itself the recognition and the return it describes. I think I may have cried when I reached it in my first perusal.</p> <p>But even then, enjoying the passage in context and as it was meant, I knew it was coming. The blow of realization was softened by the recognition of that quote, the memories of all the glurgy confections in which I&#8217;ve seen those words quoted. A host of associations alien to the poetry at hand crowded in, and while the thought of that reading, that moment, still gives me a shiver, it also carries a hint of annoyance at the companies and people that overused that quote and tarnished a little of its brilliance. It&#8217;s like playing two bars of the Moonlight Sonata in a music box. It&#8217;s bite-sizing and mass-marketing our cultural treasures. It&#8217;s tawdry and sad.</p> Poets buy poetry 2007-07-24T12:11:11+00:00 2008-07-24T22:08:43+00:00 <p>So as I stir my morning oatmeal, the local hour of <a href="" target="links"><span class="caps">KQED</span></a>&#8217;s Forum plays. It&#8217;s about the upcoming <a href="" target="links">San Francisco International Poetry Festival</a>. The host starts taking listener calls, asking that they share poets, especially little-known ones, whose work they love, or talk about poetry and its significance in general.</p> <p>The <em>second</em> caller wants to know how to get his sonnets published.</p> <p>For Muse&#8217;s sake here, people. I&#8217;m well aware of the Magic Cover Letter Effect&#8212;the irrational belief among unpublished writers that there is one thing they could do that would get them published, and the resulting tendency to ask embarrassing questions at panels and readings. However, for poetry it&#8217;s worse.</p> <p>I&#8217;ve written some poetry in my day. And I never, ever try to get it published. Why? Some of it isn&#8217;t awful, but over the years, I haven&#8217;t been a consumer of poetry. Until I entered the <span class="caps">MFA</span> program, I had never bought a literary journal or a book of poetry that wasn&#8217;t an anthology for class. I reasoned that I had no right to ask anyone to publish my poetry if I wasn&#8217;t consuming other people&#8217;s.</p> <p>And this is one of those times when I break my own rules and say, &#8220;My way is Right.&#8221; If you are a poet, if you feel in your heart that you&#8217;re a poet, that someday people will be reading your poems in journals and chapbooks&#8212;walk down to Powell&#8217;s, or your local independent bookstore, or, if all else fails, Borders (they have a decent number of litmags). Buy some poetry journals. Mark the poems in the journals you really love, and look up the authors. Buy a book of poetry. I love <a href="" target="links">Jeannine Hall Gailey&#8217;s first book, <em>Becoming the Villainess</em></a>. You could also pick up <a href="" target="links">Dorianne Laux&#8217;s <em>Facts About the Moon</em></a>, or <a href="" target="links">Joe Millar&#8217;s latest, <em>Fortune</em></a>, or a book by someone I&#8217;ve never heard of, someone you&#8217;ll discover for yourself in the musty rows at Powell&#8217;s, someone whose poetry you will hide on the way to the register, unsure they&#8217;ll really let you buy this for only X dollars, feeling like a thief.</p> <p>&#8220;Everyone&#8217;s a poet,&#8221; Jack Hirschman, San Francisco&#8217;s Poet Laureate said on Forum today. But it takes more than that, I think. In order to really be a poet, you have to realize you&#8217;re taking part in an ancient art that has fallen on hard times, that is sustained by love, and by the generosity of those who have little. Who is going to spend ten, fifteen, twenty dollars on a book of poems? On a thin book with much blank space, on a genre even public radio callers distance with a &#8220;I don&#8217;t read poetry, really, but&#8230;&#8221;? Who is going to do that? Maybe you. And maybe then you&#8217;ll see which markets your work would be good in, maybe you&#8217;ll see opportunities for your own work to improve, maybe you&#8217;ll find inspiration and strength. Maybe you will become a part of a community of writers. Maybe you&#8217;re a poet. Go and see.</p>