Everyday Sexism and Giant Space-Dicks

I started following @EverydaySexism on Twitter a month or so ago, and it has been an eye-opener. A morning coffee with a cockroach in it, reminding me how ill behaved some men are.(Not that women are saints. At PROTECT they’ll tell you no one knows what a predator looks like, and plenty of women use society’s view of them as natural nurturers as camouflage for predatory behavior.)

I’m also twitter friends with cosplayers, people who dress up at science fiction and comic book conventions. Some are women, and many of them get groped by let’s face it, there’s only one word, assholes who feel entitled to grab a stranger’s ass or feel the need to inform a women they’ve never met what he’d like to do with her.  And this is supposed to be taken in stride, because hey, who wouldn’t like to be called sexy, or beautiful, and isn’t that what it really means?

No, it doesn’t. It means you are there for my enjoyment, and you are less than a person.

To a lesser extent, we’ve seen more of this viewpoint in the recent SFWA debacle where two old dinosaurs waxed poetic about beautiful “lady editors,” and who looked great in a bikini, and then cried censorship when people complained. Then a writer seriously told these women to be “like Barbie,” and “maintain [their] quiet dignity as a woman should.” On what planet is that acceptable? SFWA President John Scalzi is taking the blame, but his brave martyrdom distracts us from men so entitled that they believe they are above criticism. “Lady editor” is the stupidest thing I’ve read in years. When I was a kid, women driving was rare enough that the term “lady driver” was still in use, and jokes about women driving badly were the norm. That was almost forty years ago. “Lady writer” sounds like something the idle rich do, to fritter away their time.
(Before you assume I’m commenting on hearsay, follow the links above, which will get you to the actual pages from the SFWA bulletin)

And the most common response to this vile behavior is to tell men “what if it was your sister/mother/daughter?”

How about some empathy? What if it was you?

You may not believe it, but I’ve had my ass grabbed at a convention. It was by a fellow who mistook me for what is known as a “bear.” I didn’t punch him out, as you might imagine. I was too shocked. I felt like I’d swallowed an ice cube. That initial, unbelievable invasion of my personal space and objectification was something utterly new and alien to me. I stammered some veiled threat and he waved me off and walked away.

There’s a reason the pop-culture male nightmare is to be locked in a cell with a horny guy named Bubba. Because deep down, we men know how it makes women feel. But we say “that’s how it is,” and expect them to tolerate it. 

Do I claim to  how women feel when groped, even if it’s at a Science Fiction convention? No, because that was an isolated incident for me. It has never happened again, not at bars in Chelsea, not at Burning Man as thousands of mostly naked people chanted in the desert around a techno wicker man. I don’t walk around dreading it, expecting it, waiting for it to happen because it happens so damn often.

I didn’t write this for sympathy or whatever. I can remember it, but the only effect it has on me is a desire to catch one of these assholes groping a female friend of mine, so I can find out if he can swallow his own fist.  As for “lady editors,” if science fiction writers can imagine unheard-of future civilizations, they can unshackle their brains from the ’60s when they were cocks of the walk, and start treating women as equals and not “lady writers,” who are so durn cute when they write their widdle stories and try to be like men! She thinks she’s a person, isn’t that adorable?

Really, fuck you guys. The best science fiction I’ve ever read was by women. Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.

If you feel threatened by them enough to belittle them and tell them to get you some coffee, you can go eat a giant smelly space dick.

12 thoughts on “Everyday Sexism and Giant Space-Dicks

  1. Thank you. When I commented on the SFWA thing I got called a “girl” by one man as old as I am (62) and told I was trying to “control men” and “censor speech”…and what was so bad about “lady writer” anyway? Guess what, people (by which he meant men, obviously) are sexual beings and that’s OKAY. And how dare we “girls” oppose covers with women in steel bikinis and speculation on a “lady editor” being a beauty queen.

    Luckily I know a great many men who are trying their best to NOT be sexist pigs (and generally succeeding) and it looks like you’re one of them. Thought I’d give you the old feminist applause for that because, honestly, sexism (like other nasty “isms”) is still a mainstay, it seems.

    Great goddess.

    • You are quiet welcome- no thanks are necessary for what should be common behavior, treating each other with respect.
      We all absorb a certain amount of behavior from our culture. One of the reasons I love SF is that it puts our behavior in perspective, or at least the best of it does.
      The steel bikini thing is just silly. And their defense of it was to use C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry- who was wearing full plate armor, not a fetish chainmail bikini. And they didn’t even notice that Jirel’s armor was actually functional.

  2. not to mention that C.L. Moore had write with initials to keep from getting dismissed out of hand as a “lady writer.” Ursula LeGuin also famously relates how much she hated being initialized when she sold a story to Playboy, being told that the male readership wouldn’t read something with a female byline.

    I did not know about James Tiptree Jr. Now I have a new (old) author’s works to explore. Thank you!

    • “Tiptree” wrote “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” which is one of the strongest classics, and also a piercing tale of feminist SF. It really struck me. And so much more.

  3. This will sounds really weird, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing your honest reaction to how it felt to be harassed at that convention. Most men say things like “If that happened to me, I’d be flattered/punch the guy. Why can’t you girls just do that?” This leaves me, at least, feeling like crap because I was affected/let him get away with it, and spending the next few days going “Yeah, next time I’ll brush it off/tell him to back off.” Unsurprisingly, next time it happens I freeze up again anyway because nothing actually prepares you for being harassed.

    And men get away with saying things like that because so few of them are ever actually in a position where they are the ones being harassed. They get to imply that I react like I do because I’m a woman and weak, not because I was stunned into inaction by the sheer gall of whoever just harassed me, and by the reminder of the fact that I am apparently not entitled to common courtesy.

    That moment of shock, that utter inability to think of a good response, or any even response, that’s much more common, at least in my experience. And it’s surprisingly reassuring to hear a man say that he experienced the same or similar emotions and reactions as I do in that situation. It’s a nice antidote for all the times men have implied that my actual reaction is invalid.

    So thanks.

    • You’re welcome. Anyone who says they’d immediately punch someone is talking bluster. It takes training to return a punch quickly in the boxing ring, much less a social situation.

  4. Really like this, Thomas. You said what needed to be said.

    You know, there’s another problem with the argument that goes, “What if it was your sister or your mom or your daughter?” I understand that it’s meant to make it personal for the guy, but it has a darker implication. It’s basically saying that women shouldn’t be harassed because of the fact that they are someone’s daughter or mom or sister. In other words, they shouldn’t be harassed because of WHO THEY BELONG TO, or at the very least, because of their relationship with a man. But that isn’t quite right, is it? Women shouldn’t be harassed because they are human beings, full stop.

    • Very true. I remember the first time I was corrected for doing this, by calling Mary Wollstonecraft um, Mary Shelley’s mother. The woman who wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Women. This still happens- the most recently memorable being the rocket scientist in the NY Times whose eulogy began with “great mom who cooked a mean meatloaf” or similar, when she was… a rocket scientist.

  5. No– it’s not about “who they belong to” it is that these Pigs usually put the Womyns such as their Mothers and/or Sisters they love on a Pedestal as shining examples of “Motherhood” or “Femininity” instead of the dozens of derogatory categorizations they use to dehumanize and objectify. I have traveled around the world, 24 countries in 5 continents; I’ve seen 12 year old girls selling themselves in the streets in Africa, the Far East, Central America. They *are* somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s sister. And quite often they do what they do to take care of their loved ones. With no skills and no opportunities what are they supposed to do?

Comments are closed.