This week, we denizens of the Night Bazaar are invited to consider sexism in the science fiction/fantasy/horror/comics/whatever community and the genre of the fantastic itself. It’s further suggested we contemplate sexual harassment at conventions, the suggestion that provocatively clad female cosplayers aren’t true geeks, and the sexist content or lack of same in our own work and that of others.
I find this task daunting because I don’t know how to cleverly discuss the three subtopics in relation to one another to demonstrate a single underlying truth. I can kick each of them around a little, but if the following lacks the unity a good essay should have, I ask your indulgence.
I haven’t witnessed sexual harassment at a con in a while, but I don’t doubt it still occurs. In my opinion (and this may shock you), it’s bad.
In fact, it’s bad enough that no convention committee worth a damn will allow it to continue if they know it’s going on. (If they do, they need to be replaced, or we need not to patronize the event they run anymore.) Thus, I encourage anyone who’s the target of harassment to report the situation to convention registration or security. Don’t let some asshole ruin your good time.
But I don’t mean to put the whole burden of stopping harassment on convention staff. Any attendee who witnesses harassment can intervene, although I recommend tact and the support of likeminded souls over any approach you may have seen in a Jason Statham movie.
As I hope you gleaned from the above, I take the issue of sexual harassment seriously. That sets it apart from the cosplay controversy, which is stupid.
In last week’s post, I referenced John Scalzi’s comment that a geek is anyone who chooses to define him- or herself that way. If we accept this premise (and it strikes me as pure snobbery not to), then the idea that a female cosplayer or anybody else knocking around fandom is a fake geek becomes nonsensical.
But actually, there’s more (albeit, nothing that’s more sensible) to this particular issue.
Besides doubting whether the women in question are genuine 100% honest-to-Gernsback geeks, their detractors decry the fact that they wear tight or skimpy outfits, and as a result, male fans look at them with appreciative eyes. Presumably, this is deemed deplorable because someone is supposedly being exploited or hurt. Why else would anybody care?
But I don’t see the exploitation or harm. To me, this just looks like a fannish instance of normal human behavior. A con is a big party for our clan, women commonly try to look attractive at parties, and guys enjoy the view.
Is that horrible? Surely, only if sexuality itself is dangerous and/or disgusting. In my judgment (and again, this may shock you), it isn’t.
Well, then, does the behavior somehow become horrible when geeks are involved? Only if our community is made up of psychological defectives at risk of flipping out over something the rest of society takes in stride. And it’s not. There’s a smidgen of truth in the stereotype of the socially awkward geek, but relatively few of us make the sexual predator watch list or jump out of high windows upon glimpsing cleavage.
But even though we don’t, perhaps it’s still worth taking a critical look at the genre of the fantastic as novelists, filmmakers, comic book creators, etc., work in it today. Is there content that might influence the audience to view sexual harassment as acceptable or to go nuts when cosplayers dress up as Lieutenant Uhura or Vampirella?
I don’t see sexism in my own stuff, but I realize I could conceivably be blind to that which is painfully apparent to others. I have female readers, though, and those who share their reactions with me aren’t complaining. That gives me hope that I’m doing something right.
It’s hard for me to comment on the field as a whole because, as I mentioned in a previous post, I simply don’t get to read or watch more than a tiny fraction of what’s out there. But in what I do see, strong female characters are the norm. Passive, helpless women appear rarely, at least in central roles.
That said, weak women aren’t the only sort of sexist female character a writer could create, and in horror, I often still encounter the succubus, whose evil sexuality destroys men. Come to think of it, I myself wrote a version of her in Blind God’s Bluff. But horror’s a good place for her. Men and women don’t understand each other perfectly, that misunderstanding can create a little anxiety and mistrust in even the best of us, and the purpose of horror (well, one of its purposes) is to stick our fears, major and minor, rational and otherwise, on a stage and take a look at them.
In any case, in horror or any other genre, we do well to be wary of concluding that the writer who creates the occasional weak or evil female character, or who depicts the occasional act of brutality against women, is a sexist swine propping up all that’s vile and atavistic in our culture. Because there actually are weak and evil women in real life just as there are strong and virtuous ones, and women do sometimes fall victim to brutality. Writers need the freedom to depict such people and situations, or their work will be less than it could be. (Which is not to suggest that a creator’s entire body of work might not convey a pervasive attitude. I’m not trying to get John Norman off the hook.)
It does seem to me that both the culture of the US and our subculture of fandom are gradually changing for the better. Eventually, we might even reach a point where women simply don’t get harassed, nobody freaks out over skintight costumes, and no one finds it necessary to check our entertainments for sexual political correctness. That would be nice.Read More...