la_marquise: (Default)
On behalf of white British people everywhere, I apologise profoundly and abjectly for the white terrorist attack in Finsbury Park. O apologise for our broken, entitled, arrogant culture, which fosters white rage, xenophobia, racism and bigotry. I apologise for our educational and political systems which uphold and maintain white privilege. I apologise for our society that encourages and rewards white male rage and violence. I apologise for our legacy of colonisation, that reinforced existing prejudices and which we white people still refuse to recognise, process and atone for. I apologise for our political class, who use racism as a tool to keep them in power, without thought for the human cost. I apologise for the BNP, the NF, the EDF, Combat 18, Britain First, UKIP and all the other right wing racists. I apologise for The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph and the TImes and their irresponsible and cynical 'journalism'. I apologise for my personal complicity in the structures that maintain white privilege and for my craven failures to challenge it in all circumstances.
I'd like to think we were better than this, but the last 12 months have exposed that for a comforting illusion.
A plague on all our British houses.
The attacks in Manchester and on London Bridge made me profoundly sad.
The attack on Finsbury Park makes me deeply, deeply angry, because it is nothing more than vicious, unnecessary racism and Islamophobia, fostered by the shameful, bullying culture that we have allowed into power over us.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
There are days when silence is the only answer. I've had a lot of those lately. There's not a lot to say when everything seems to be falling to pieces on all sides. And what use are the words of the powerless anyway?

But here's the thing. Today we were presented with a summary of Our Great Leader's Five Year Plan manifesto for our all-new, all-shiny, back to the 1850s Britain.
Our borders will be ironclad, to keep out anyone who isn't just like us.
Because this country should work for everyone.
Our schools will be streamed, divided and reshaped to ensure that social barriers not only remain in place but become harder to climb, and that only the children of the privileged can be certain of a rounded education, while the rest -- the majority -- are inculcated from as early as possible with a sense of their own inadequacy, stupidity and inconsequence.
Because this country should work for everyone.
Foreign-born workers will be sent away, hampered, demonised and blamed, in the name of jobs for locals -- even if the places they work for depend on them and cannot function without them, because, well, umm....
Because this country should work for everyone.
Firms will be forced to list the nationalities of their employees, and universities deprived of students; while landlords will be forced to spy on tenants.
Because this country should work for everyone.
All European laws will be signed into British law, so Mrs May's government can repeal all and any they wish, including protections for workers, LGBT people, people of colour, people with disabilities, women, children... anyone who can't afford the best lawyers.
Because this country should work for everyone.

And in return... There are airy promises of more medical training places -- but no mention of funding for these, or of doing anything about the huge debt burden education now places on students.
Firms will be told to employ locals. But they will not be told pay a livable wage (a real one, not the fake one of Osborne), or to offer decent working conditions. Zero hours contracts will not be outlawed.
Mrs May has lots of words about fairness, but she promised no action against major tax evaders, the use of off-shore havens, the corrupt practices employed by the wealthiest to avoid not only tax but all other forms of civic duty also. She made no move to close done the channels of influence that allow the richest privileged access to the halls of power. She made no move to put the brakes on Jeremy Hunt's wrong-headed attack on junior doctors, or the wider assault on the NHS. Her ministers have made promises left, right and centre to continue subsidies for large and influential groups that benefited from the EU -- but not to the smaller and less powerful ones (like the whole of Wales. Huge agribusinesses matter. But Wales does not). I have doubts that some of these groups will see these promises honoured in full -- but insofar as any do, it will, I strongly suspect, only be those at the very top of the wealth pyramid. The ones related to members of her cabinet, the ones who bankroll her party, the ones whose opinions Matter.

Because make no mistake, Mrs May's manifesto is for the few and not the many. This is a manifesto for right wing upper and upper middle class southerners, Daily Mail readers, and pirate capitalists. She offers money for new houses -- but her hoyusing minister Gavin Burwell is suggesting this be achieved by removing minimum size requirements on new builds. And she made no mention of clamping down on exploitative practices employed by some landlords, of ensuring tenants' rights and safety, of introducving fair rents in major cities. Tenants are not people. Only the rich are people.

Just before he ran away to regroup on 24th June, Boris Johnson said of the referendum result that you can't just ignore 16 million people. But -- as with so much else -- he was wrong. Mrs May can. Liam Fox can. David Davies and Jeremy Hunt can. May was theoretically in the Remain camp, but no trace of that can be seen. And it's not just remainers. The poor are not people. Tenants are not people. The ill, those with disabilities, those who are not British-born, those who are not southern, those who are not old enough to vote, those are not Perfect Little Englanders, are not people.

According the the Ashcroft polls, attitudes amongst the leave camp did not simply map against Euroscepticism (and plain Euroscepticism is not an inherently bad thing: the EU is not perfect, and there are serious concerns). Amongst those polled, the majority also wanted women's rights reduced, social liberalism rolled back, and, yes, grammar schools.

There was nothing in the referendum about grammar schools or about non-EU nationals -- yet here are the measures, pandering to the the kind of reactionary sentiments that the hugely wealthy owners of the right wing press espouse. This is the beginning, not the end.

Remember that some of the wealthy backers of the leave campaign want maternity rights rolled back, because protection for women with children costs businesses money. There is a wedge aimed at the heart of our society, controlled by plutocrats and Big International Money.

We can, eventually, vote out a government. But the Murdochs and the Desmonds and the Greens are accountable to no-one. And they are buying control of the world.

Skirt of the day: blue tiered.
la_marquise: (Marquise)
So, back in the ninth century, having established himself as king of Wessex, Alfred the Great initiated a programme of education of his male aristocracy and oversaw the translation into Old English of a number of books he considered to be 'most necessary for men to know'. These were mainly religious, but also included Bede's A History of the English Church and Peoples, and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

What books would you recommend today, aside from sacred books and standard chestnuts like Shakespeare? Mine would be Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, which to my mind is the finest early history we possess and a textbook introduction into how we construct, create, manipulate and interpret the varied histories that make up our past; Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which despite dated sections is still a clear cold look at the intersection of greed for money and power, faith and modern society; and Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a masterclass in plotting, pace and colour by a mixed-race author who was always proud to be exactly who he was, and as a result wrote characters who stand up for their principles. (I love the Musketeers more; and his best female characters are Claire and Manon in The War of Women, but Monte Cristo is probably his strongest book).

Over to you.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
Everyone seems very determined in preaching the mantra of 'no, there's no hope: know your place'. And any attempt at looking for any alternative way is greeted with derision and contempt.
I'm 53. I am *not* naive. The next person who dismisses me with that line will be summarily blocked. If I have to respect you, then you play by the same rules and respect me. Sneering, gloating and bullying do not entitle you to a courteous response from me. Pointing and laughing when your own house is on fire may be cathartic, but it's not my duty to be polite when you shove it in my face.
Sneering at the underprivileged and labelling them stupid, racist, ignorant etc is not a solution. Calling everyone not in your little bubble 'them' is not a solution. I disagree profoundly with the working class and underclass leave voters but I do not blame them for what has happened. The narrative of fear, suspicion and jingoism has been fostered and promulgated by a particular subset of the global elite, who see personal advantage in creating and maintaining divisions between nations and cultures and who benefit by keeping the poor frightened, envious and empoverished. It has been created by a weak Tory leader who could not heal the deep divisions in his party. It has been created by ambitious and cynical upper class men who saw a chance to gain vast personal power.
Blame the plutocrats, and the media barons. Blame the Westminster cynics who repeatedly chose their own personal ambitions over what actually helps those they purported they serve. This includes the Blairites who are more interested in grabbing back leadership than in trying to address the crisis that grips the country right now. This includes the squabbling Tories. This includes UKIP, who have masqueraded as the champions of the people while admitting the rank and file of the old BNP and NF to their ranks and offering them up as plausible potential councillors and MPs without checking to see if they advocate apartheid or homophobia or virulent sexism.
Blame the rich. Every time you point fingers at the disprivileged who have voted Leave after decades of neglect and abuse from the establishment, you collude with that establishment. I wish to the bottom of my heart that more of the poorest had been able to believe in the EU and vote Remain. But I refuse to play the 'them and us' game. I refuse to follow the narrative preached by the greedy, biased, wealthy ruling classes who have brought the rest of us to our knees with their pandering to the free market over all, and their contempt for anyone who isn't just like them.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
Let's start with a link. I'll wait while you go and read it: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/10/18/shooter_opens_fire_at_fort_myers_florida_zombiecon.html?wpisrc=burger_bar

This is scary. Someone was killed at Zombiecon by someone who turned up and started shooting.
This time, for the first time ever, I looked up what the gun laws were for the place where worldcon was to be held, because some of the things that had been said in the run-up to it by some of the puppy-allies were seriously scary. I didn't enjoy that feeling, nor did I enjoy feeling I needed to know. Fan space isn't necessarily safe space -- indeed, often it isn't safe. But this is an added level of anxiety, which had begun for me two years earlier and is one of the reasons I didn't go to LoneStarCon. I come from a culture in which guns are rare and controlled. I'm outspoken, female and left wing -- very left wing by US standards. Texas feels scary to me (well, some parts of it do).
In the run-up to Sasquan, someone -- I forget who, and don't have the link to had -- called for worldcons in future only to be held in open carry states. Someone else threatened to hit anyone who dared to find his views frightening. That same person stated that he will only accept foreigners who agree with him that the US is the greatest country in the world and who place its interests above everything else.
I've had issues with sexual harassment and misogyny in fandom for years. I've witnessed incidents of homophobia, transphobia and racism at cons. I've witnessed one psychotic breakdown (the concom and site handled it well and with compassion for all involved) and many crises. I've twice been seriously assaulted in fan space and I've long lost track of the minor incidents. SFF has a long way to go. But until the puppies appeared, I've never worried about guns.
SFF is bigger than right wing gun lovers. It's bigger than US exceptionalists. It belongs to all of us, whatever our race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, whether we're cis or trans, old or young, rich or poor. My fanspace has room for everyone, even the puppies (though I'd prefer they left their guns at the door, for everyone's safety).
Yesterday, someone opened fire at a cosplay event.
I don't want this to happen on another day at an sff con. If you'd asked me about this a few years ago, I'd have said, 'That'll never happen.' Now... I know I'm not alone in feeling afraid. I know I wasn't alone in worrying in the run-up to Sasquan.
But here's the thing. This whole deal with guns is part of the US culture war. SFF does not belong to any one country, any one creed or race or gender or whatever. It's bigger than that.
And I want the culture war out of our space.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
So there's this guy I know. I've known him most of my life: I'll call him Alfie, for now, though that's not his name. He's a nice bloke: good company, smart, funny, kind and reliable. For a while, we worked at the same place, and he was good at his job and, by and large, a nice colleague. I was at school with him, and we ended up at the same university -- you know how that goes. We didn't always end up in the same social circles, and we have some different interests, but he's one of those people, I guess: one of those people you just know and have always known.

I like Alfie: like I said, he's good company. I've never shared a house with him, but our mutual friend Bimla did, and she tells me he washed up after himself and sometimes remembered to do the vacuuming, just like her. He was a pretty good housemate (and he's a very good cook). He's married now, with two daughters who he adores and encourages to play soccer and study science. To use the old terms of the 80s, he's a new man: he helps around the house, has been known to change nappies and he treats his female work colleague Chantal well. Alfie's one of the good guys.

Except when he isn't. Because, you see, here's the thing about Alfie: he's a comfortable misogynist.

About this point, I can see the frowns starting. What's misogynist about what I've described, exactly? Alfie cooks and cleans and is nice to Chantal at work. He's a good dad (though his wife Daisy does sometimes wish this extended more to picking up toys and getting up when one of the girls is ill, and less to the fun stuff, like playing sport and going for ice cream). He's a good guy, I said so. He's a friend. He's not a sex pest or a male rights' activist. He thinks women should be allowed to work and he is outraged at female genital mutilation and all the news coverage of historic sex abuse cases. When it comes to big issues, Alfie's a feminist.

He feels good about that. And that's where the problem starts, because while he's great at the big picture, he is rubbish at seeing what's right under his nose. To this day, he doesn't understand why Daisy was so upset when he went on that month-long training course two weeks after their 2nd child was born. It was a great opportunity -- and while he could have gone on the next repeat of it, six months later, well, he didn't really want to go then because of his cricket side, and anyway three years on he got that great promotion. And Daisy managed. He thinks Chantal bears unnecessary grudges, because she's still sore that Edward got a pay rise when she didn't, even though they do the same job and her appraisal was better. But Edward's older than she is and he has a son at private school: he needs the extra money. Chantal's single. She'll get her turn. And it's not like the company's sexist: look at Frances at head office! She's practically a partner. Okay, there was that fuss about how she didn't get promoted that time, and Chantal and the other girls -- Grace who does admin, and whatserface, that old bat from human resources -- were up in arms about it and kept trying to get him to say something to Harry, the senior partner. But they didn't seem to get that Frances is, well, kind of abrasive and she can be really pushy, and anyway Alfie has to think of how it would look, him recommending her to Harry. He doesn't want to damage his own career. And it worked out all right, didn't it? Harry headhunted Ian from the competition and Frances got that great sideways move and a new company car.

And then there was that time Jim made a pass at that girl -- what was her name, Bimla's friend? Karly? She totally over-reacted: went on like he'd raped her or something, when it was just a few kisses and a friendly squeeze or two out in the car park. And Karly was being pretty naive, going off alone with Jim when everyone knows what a joker he is. And he was drunk: Jim's a decent bloke, everyone knows that. Yes, he makes some off-colour remarks, and yes, he can be a bit, well, *handy* when he's drunk, but it's just a bit of fun. Jim wouldn't really rape anyone. Alfie's sure of that. He wouldn't be friends with a man like that. (And anyway sometimes women exaggerate. He knows it's a bit edgy to say that, but he read this article in the paper the other day, and they interviewed a lawyer, and he'd know, right?) But Bimla and Daisy flew off the handle about that, and Daisy won't let him invite Jim round any more.

The thing is, Alfie thinks, is that women are just a bit... well, they expect miracles, right? It can take years to get where Ian and Harry are: Frances should know that. Her turn will come, if she's patient and doesn't make trouble. (Yes, Ian's a few years younger that her, but she took those two years out when she had her baby, so it evens out.) It's a hard word for everyone and these girls, well, they're being naive. There's laws and everything now about equality: people aren't allowed to discriminate any more. There's a level playing field. But some of these women insist on seeing sexism everywhere where it's not. If it was there, he'd know, and he'd be right there fighting for justice for them, just like in the old days when he used to go on those Reclaim the Night marches with Daisy and Bimla. He supports women's rights. That's one of the reasons he didn't go to Harry about Frances or Chantal: it would have been sexist, like they couldn't speak for themselves. And he was really busy that week anyway, and, well, this stuff is really hard work and he just doesn't have the energy for all that, some days.

Alfie means well. He understands the big issues and, despite how he looks from the above, he's a solid ally on those things: he really is a good dad and he doesn't expect rewards for doing housework. But sometimes, he doesn't get the insidious things. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, but he simply does not see the pattern of, say, Jim's behaviour, that makes Daisy and Bimla and Karly so uncomfortable. He doesn't connect it with the wider social problems of sexual harassment and rape culture. He really does think that Frances' abrasiveness is the main thing holding her back. (And he hasn't noticed that Ian is far ruder and far pushier, because, well, Ian is assertive and confident, isn't he?) They look to him like little, isolated problems, not part of a toxic cultural institution. And because to him, they're small, they're not worth getting wound up about (as he sometimes says to Daisy).

Alfie is fictional, of course. I invented him as a place-marker. He's a composite of hundreds and hundreds of men I've known over the years, mostly good blokes, people I like, people who are good people. I don't know anyone who so consistently trips over his male privilege as Alfie. But the thing is, we are an institutionally misogynist society, even with the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act and so on and so forth. We are rooted in a culture soaked in thousands of years of discrimination and sexism and assumptions about gender roles. We see where that operates on the large scale, but not always on the small -- and the less affected we are by it, the less we see. I could say the same about racism and homophobia and gender-essentialism and transphobia. The Alfies of the SFF world buy stories from women writers, and sometimes read books by them. They listen to the women they know. They are genuinely delighted when a new woman writer does well. They host guest posts from women on their webpages and link to things they write. They see and act on the big stuff. And sometimes, when historic inequities are pointed out, they help signal boost this.

And yet, and yet... If you talk to many women in sff, and particularly women who have been around a while, they'll often express a feeling of fatigue. We have been fighting so long to be seen and heard and yet our voices are barely any louder, and when new voices appear -- which is great -- older ones are dropped or forgotten to make space. I've said this before, over and over, but it is still predominantly older or established women who are expected to give way for the newcomers. A new book by William Gibson is An Event. A new book by multiple-award winning, genre-shaping C. J. Cherryh passes with barely a notice. And when this is mentioned out, men (and some women and non-binary people, yes, because #notallmen) point to the current clump of hot women writers and say 'But look at them!'

We have a culture that found it right and proper that after the death of Iain M Banks, no new GoH was announced for worldcon, but a debate started as to whether the female guest should be replaced with a different, younger woman, because the older woman 'wasn't relevant to younger readers' (which was itself wrong, as she is very popular with teenagers). We have a canon that repeats the same handful of women as members -- LeGuin, Russ, Butler, Moore, Tiptree -- without apparently seeing the problem that these women are used to stand for hundreds of others who are forgotten or dismissed (and *I* for one have not forgotten the male critic who told me that he didn't read 'the sort of mediaevalist stuff you write'. Fine, if that's a question of personal taste, but the fact is I don't write mediaevalist fantasy. But I'm a woman who writes fantasy, so he Knew, without troubling to check). I've not forgotten the fan who was incredibly vocal condemning an all-male awards' shortlist drawn up by a panel which was 50% female, but when he found himself in a similar position on a different panel, justified the absence of women by naming a couple of female writers and adding 'We don't want that kind of romantic slush on an awards' list, do we?' I've not forgotten the man who, after I was on a panel about sexual harassment in fandom, backed me into a corner to lecture me on what I was doing wrong in how I tried to protect myself (complete with 'how to dress' notes). The latter reminded me of the first iteration of Alfie I ever met, a boyfriend of a college friend, who used to censor her wardrobe on how 'feminist' it was. He forbade her to wear skirts, even if she wanted to, because it was unfeminist. And then there are all the men who say 'I need to step back; this is so tiring! I don't know how you women cope!'

We cope because we have no choice. We can't step out, not without harming ourselves. We can't endorse, say, panel parity for just a year, because these are our lives. The same is true, of course, for those engaged in anti-racist action, and that is often far harder, because the barriers are greater.

It doesn't help when the Alfies tell us not to get so wound up, or when they say 'Oh, but it's not my fight', or when they recycle the same list of women-who-matter, or Know what we write without looking it up. It doesn't help when they put up their 'Best of' lists, with only 2 women (both usually the current hot women writers). It doesn't help when they fence-sit, or fail to confront misinformation because they can't be bothered or don't want to 'dominate' (guys, you can speak up without taking over). It doesn't help when they say 'Oh, but that's so trivial'. It doesn't help when they say, 'SF by women doesn't sell' without thinking about the social and cultural reasons why that may be so (men get more reviews; their books are more likely to be promoted; men are more likely to recommend books by other men -- and to take recommendations from other men; bookshop buyers respond to numbers without looking at how they privilege male authors and order fewer books by women and so on and on). It doesn't help when men leave the women out when they talk about their influences. It doesn't help when women who self-promote are labelled pushy and aggressive while the men who do the same are seen as cool and clever.

I'm not saying most men do this on purpose. They don't. We are, as I said, an institutionally sexist culture. Women are embedded in this, too. I have had to have brisk conversations with myself more than once as to *why* I find self-promotional posts by women more worrying that those by men, for instance. We are all complicit in this comfortable misogyny, because we were all raised that way. And the same is true about other damaging, harmful social institutions, particularly racism.

Speak up. Take risks. Women have to, every single day. People of colour have to. This uneven division of labour we have, where women and people of colour and transpeople and queer people have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting is itself part of the problem. Yes, the voices and ideas and needs of those who are Othered must be front and centre. But those who sit silent, or act like Alfie are, in the end, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Skirt of the day: blue parachute.
la_marquise: (GKC)
So, over on twitter, I have a personal hashtag of #redwriter. I use it for those moments when I'm explicitly talking about my socialism, and sometimes when I realise that something in whatever I'm working on is bouncing off that. I do it, because I am of the age and type that agrees with the slogan 'Politics is life.' And it keeps me thinking, which matters to me. I want to be mindful, in my work, in my words, in my actions, in my life. I fail all the time -- I did so earlier this morning. But I try.

And I'm following the debates about politics in books, and whether they 'belong' and the calls for 'just good stories' and so on, and, well.... Politics is life. We are soaked in them, we are created by them. As with gender and race and class and ability and sexuality, our political assumptions and the political assumptions that we grew up with help to shape and form who we are, our way of being, our expectations, our interpretations. Which means that there cannot be such a thing as a politics-free book. Every decision the writer makes in their work -- who the protagonist is, what the latter wants and approves, the nature of the threat or problem they face, the types of backgrounds depicted, who is left out -- all of those are marked by the author's own expectations and experiences. We all do it. Most of the time we don't even notice. But as a result, how a book plays for different readers depends on how close those readers' experiences and expectations are to those of a writer. 'Just a good story, no politics' is not a simply a call for books to be entertaining. It's a call for books to make specific readers comfortable. But all readers are different: we all have different levels of comfort and familiarity. The easier it is for you to find a book that mirrors your experience -- a 'politics-free' book -- the chances are, the closer you are to the hegemonic centre of society.

None of this is new: people have been saying this for years, usually in response to other people complaining about politics 'spoiling' books. People who are highly privileged are most likely to complain if they meet something that's not comfortable, not because they are necessarily bad people, but because they're used to seeing themselves at the centre of everything, and they're startled. People who are less privileged, less central to social norms are used to reading about characters and ideas and foods and places that they don't recognise, because mainstream books tend to reflect mainstream expectations.

It takes work to notice this, especially if you're one of the privileged. We don't notice things that to us are 'normal' and we expect what we read to reflect that. When we write, we often write to our internalised norms without noticing it. I can see that everywhere in my own writing. I'm a feminist and a socialist, but most of the characters in my first book are rich and powerful. The plot is mainly driven by the male characters, and the three main characters are all men. I made a conscious decision that most of the characters were not white, but I did not, in my own opinion, do anything like enough work to back that up, and I failed. Thew female characters have a lot of political and social power, but at least three of them are self-sacrificing, placing duty and the welfare of others above their own needs and survival. My internalised misogyny was speaking: women cannot succeed without sacrifice, pain and loss. I worked harder of breaking out of misogyny and Euro-centrism in my second book. I made a conscious effort to depict foods and traditions, landscapes and buildings and ways of organisation that were not just versions of what I grew up with. And I still didn't succeed. I really struggled to write Aude as a person with agency: inner training steered me towards making her weaker, more dependent, more timid and diffident. I've never found a character so difficult to depict. (The twins were easy. Ferrets do what they like, regardless of gender. Writing them was hugely freeing and great fun.) But I'm sure there are many places in the book where I failed, because I am marked by my culture, I am trained and shaped by it and it infects everything I do.

We can always find excuses for defaulting to our norms. Let's take an explicitly political book that is also a good fun read -- and often marketed as a children's book -- Watership Down. I love WD; I read it when it first came out (I was 12 or 13) and it was a big part of my teens. It's an adventure with rabbit heroes. It's also an analysis of different political systems and their good and bad points. Richard Adams comes down on the side of a sort of democratic anarchy, with a charismatic leader setting the tone. He set out consciously to write a political novel.

And yet, his assumptions and training show through. The characters are nearly all male, and such female characters who are present are weaker, more anxious, less able to act with agency -- and presented as potential mates. The rabbits are monotheists. Male leadership is assumed as natural. Threats come from outside, not within. Creatures who are not like you are dangerous. Now, most of this is based on the fact that the characters are rabbits. It's natural for rabbits to fear predators, for instance, and wandering bands of young rabbits tend to be male. But at the same time, Adams -- and the scholars whose work he used -- were affected by their social training when they wrote and researched. Humans live in a society in which behaviour is heavily gendered. It feels natural. So when we look at other species, we assume they do the same. Yet more and more research is now questioning this -- researchers have broken the bonds of their social conditioning -- and finding that in fact, many species do not express gendered social behaviour in the ways humans do. I don't know explicitly what has been observed in rabbits since Adams wrote, but I suspect that the norms his sources detected were refracted by ingrained gender bias. And he was writing a fantasy, in which rabbits have a religion, tell stories, invent political systems. He could have made some of the active central characters female. He didn't. He was comfortable with his own status quo. And he had the excuse, if needed, of 'Oh, but the book I read said...' That books said stranger danger and few women; it did not say religion, but he included the latter anyway. He made an unconscious political choice, just as I did with how I depicted Yvelliane and Iareth and Firomelle in Living With Ghosts.

And here's another thing. Of all my characters, Iareth is the one closest to me. That drive she has to do her duty, come what may, and the problems it causes her, is mine. One of the hardest scenes for me to write in that book was the one where she agrees to stay with Valdarrien. All my instincts -- and thus hers -- were screaming at me that she must not, that it was not Good Behaviour. The first time I wrote it, she said 'No' to him despite the plot. I had to argue with myself for two days before I could rewrite it. And I still think that, had he lived, she would have left him again, in a few months or years, because of that iron sense of duty. That's my own internalised female guilt, right there. I am not supposed to put my own wishes at the centre of my life, because good girls live for others. Like Yvelliane. Like Firomelle. Not at all like Aude, who I struggle to write.

What about 'non-political' books; books in which our personal cultural comfort zone is the default? Let's take Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, another book I read and reread, and loved as a teen. There is no over political agenda in the book: it's the story of a young woman having adventures, finding love and saving the world. At 14, it was the best book ever for me, because it was a fantasy (my favourite type of book) with a female lead who was always right. Usually female heroes are corrected by men several times in a book, but Lessa talks back all the time, does what she wants -- and the men climb down. It was wonderfully liberating. And yet.... Though the role of Weyrwoman is important, Lessa is a Unique Heroine. She is explicitly different to all the other women around her, she is special. And there can be only one of her (6 by the end of the book). Her life is very, very unusual. Everyone else important in the book is male: the other female characters are minor, unimportant and occupy gendered space: wives, servants and sluts. The political structure assumes male leadership -- and aristocratic, born-to-rule leadership at that -- and the solution to the poverty, suffering or distress of the 'common people' is not more agency in their lives, but having a better Lord (or Weyrleader). Bad lords are overthrown by good lords. Everyone is white, and the trappings of their culture reflect that. The book normalises and even romanticises sexual violence, to the point that it's almost unnoticeable. (When in the sequel F'Nor rapes Brekke, I noticed, and I was never entirely happy with their love story, but I accepted that to Brekke the rape was minor, even good, because the writer said so.) As far as I know, the only agenda McCaffrey had when she wrote Dragonflight was to put a women at the centre (just the one). But the other things are there, because they were part of her cultural norm.

All books are political. All books have agenda, conscious or not. Because we are all products of our cultures, and those cultures show.


Skirt of the day: blue cotton parachute (in non-parachute mode).
la_marquise: (Living With Ghosts)
So I just learnt that both Mr Correia and Mr Torgersen debuted in 2009. I debuted (as a novelist) that year, too. From the sense of ownership and entitlement they express over sff, I had assumed they were old hands, who'd been working and writing for at least a decade, probably more.
I am, frankly, gobsmacked. I cannot imagine the temerity. This is shared space and in the scheme of things, 2009 is very recent. It would never have crossed my mind to expect to control anything more than my own work, and to feel entitled to it -- to feel ownership in that way.
I got nothing. Maybe this is a gendered thing. Maybe this is a cultural difference. I perceive myself as pretty junior, in the scheme of things. They clearly don't see themselves that way.
I'm a decent enough writer, I think. I am, indeed, an award winning writer, though I feel silly saying so. But you know, getting published is a huge privilege. I am profoundly grateful to have been given that chance. I don't feel I need or merit more than that. Awards are nice things to have. I was honoured and astonished and delighted to win mine -- thank you, British Fantasy Society. But at the same time, I'm conflicted about them. The thing is, writing is not a competition, it's not a sport. It's a creative endeavour, a sharing of vision between writer and reader -- it is, as Lewis Hyde says in his perceptive and thoughtful book The Gift an offering. There is an inherent tension between creativity and capitalism anyway -- how do you define value in art, seriously? Popularity? Quality? No-one agrees what those are. Writing -- and painting and poetry and all the other creative arts -- produce objects whose value can be expressed in far more ways that simply financial. There is no pricing-system for the way a book can comfort or enlighten or support or heal a reader; the way a piece of music can induce sorrow or joy or a sense of immanence in those who hear it. Art has multiple values and msot of them are unquantifiable.

Most of Hyde's book -- which I recommend highly -- explores the dilemma of the artist, negotiating these different sets of values. Writers and musicians and photographers have to eat and pay bills like anyone else. They need for their work to have a level of financial value. But at the same time, many of us also value (hah) the other qualities of their work too. When a friend who has been facing serious problems recently told me that my The Grass King's Concubine helped her to feel safer, I was delighted and touched. I want my words to be useful and meaningful to others.

That is part of the function of awards, of course. They are a way for readers to express appreciation to artists. It's nice to be appreciated. And yet, they also set writers in competition with each other. They infect people with the idea that book X is 'better' than book y, because X won and Y came second. They create hierarchies -- and hierarchies create privilege and exclusion. And people start feeling, sometimes, that they are being unfairly overlooked because... Well, why will depend on the particular individuals. (When I feel overlooked, which I do, sometimes, because, well, human, I usually blame it on my own reticence about self-promotion. I am sh*t at self-promotion, and that harms me.) And that creates resentment and anger and culture wars. So I don't know. Because as writers we are all in this together. We are all committed to the same thing, creating our visions and sharing them. We are colleagues, not combatants, or we should be.

Now, of course, not everyone sees it like this. I've just been reading Hillary Rettig on writing (recommended to me by Stephanie Burgess and I am very grateful to her for that, for it is excellent). One of the things she writes about is how invested writers become in our work and its reception. It can sometimes become all tangled up in our sense of identity, and if it is rejected or ill-received, it feels like an attack on our inner, most sensitive selves. I've been in that place and it hurts. But, as Rettig points out, this belief, however natural, is also not the whole truth. We give others too much power over us, and she offers ways of retaining our love of our work without allowing others to destroy us through negative criticism or commentary. Like The Gift, it's an excellent book, and I recommend it -- it's called The Seven Secrets of Prolific Writers, which is the sort of title I usually avoid, for such books are often prescriptive, but this one is not. It's wise and kind and supportive. However -- to return to my muttons -- many many writers are tightly bound to their work and feel personally injured if it does not achieve as they imagined. (I will own up to having daydreamed of a World Fantasy Award nomination for Grass King for lo, I am human and rather romantic and silly [And, in my heart of hearts, I think it's a pretty good and pretty unusual book]. I didn't get one, and I didn't really expect to. But it was a nice daydream, and I was a little sad.) It seems to me that at least some of the so-called sad puppies feel precisely this -- excluded and ignored and unwanted. Which is not a nice space to be in. But, because of the world we live in, because of our narrow capitalist model of value, reducing everything to 'how much money does that make?', because everything is reduced to competition, they also seem to feel that this is someone else's fault. Someone else has cheated, or got an unfair advantage, or special treatment of something. And their solution is to blame those people and try to disenfranchise them. That the people they blame are people with far less privilege is also an artefact of capitalism, at least in part. White men have dominated the world for millennia through the subjection of those they deem non-white, of women, and, often, those who are not straight, not binary gendered, not cis-gendered, and who may face physical or mental challenges. It is also an artefact of cruel and narrow interpretations of religion, of fear and of bigotry created by fear and greed, and of generations of un-recognised social structures which have meant that rewards and recognition come much more easily to some than to others. If you come from an unmarked class -- from that group which is considered the social default -- of course you will tend to feel more entitled to success than others. You were taught that that was the way of the world. Which, I guess, explains the puppies, at least the sad ones, in part. They have been raised with expectations in a society which is changing (very slowly indeed) in ways which mean those expectations are fractionally more likely to be thwarted. But only fractionally. Not getting on a ballot is nothing in a world where young black men are murdered for walking in public. I don't understand the so-called rabid puppies and the only explanation I have is that they are very very good at groundless hate.

But the thing is, if a writer who is not like you wins an award, it doesn't take anything away from you, because we are colleagues, we are all in this together. You work is still valuable, your readers still value and enjoy it. It's still out there. Our genre is not a lesser place because it has got bigger. I loved Ancillary Justice: in addition to its use of pronouns, which seems to have upset some people, it's a wonderful space opera, and I love space opera. I love the works of Poul Anderson, and Edward Willett, to name but two small-c conservative writers. I am honoured to write and be published in a field which contained Clarke and Bradbury, Leiber and Heinlein. It also holds LeGuin and Delany and Russ, Hal Duncan and Roz Kaveney, Nnedi Okorafor and Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu. We contain multitudes, and I love that. I love our variety, our scale. I want more writers, more visions of new futures and new worlds, not fewer. Because it isn't a competition. It's a universe and a universe has space for everyone, of every race and gender, sexuality and embodiment, ethnicity and culture and yes, political inclination if only we realised that. If only our cultures (some of them, anyway) weren't teaching us fear and competitiveness and greed.

So, you see, I don't know about awards. I don't want to compete with my colleagues, I want to share and learn, support and grow. I want to open doors, not shut them. And, if we have awards, I want them to be open to good writing from every possible culture and background.

I don't know if we can do that in a world that tells us to compete and be afraid. And that, that makes me sad.


Skirt of the day: blue flags, though given the above, possibly I should go and put on the red one!

Skirt of the day:
la_marquise: (GKC)
When I was 8, I wanted more than anything to be a member of the crew of the starship Enterprise. I wanted so much to share in their adventures, going to new worlds, meeting aliens, having adventures. And that future I watched on tv every week was filled with women. I was 8: I didn't really think about the coding of their costumes or the roles they were sometimes asked to play. I noticed that they were women who spoke and acted and were listened to. They were not Doctor Who girls, running and screaming and waiting for the doctor to tell them what to do. They were planetary councillors, doctors, scientists, ambassadors. They fought, they talked back. Sometimes they rescued people or took key roles in foiling plots. They had their own guns. And, unlike the active girls in books I read at that age, they didn't have to behave or dress like boys to do this. They got to have long hair and dresses. They got to be feminine.
I was a feminine girl. I'm a feminine woman. I was never a tomboy. But in my childhood books, nearly all the active girls, the approved-of girls were. Girls like me were weak, wet, useless. Until Star Trek. I wanted that future, I wanted those lives, because those lives were exciting and adventurous and fun. It was tedious that sometimes these women seemed to have to kiss Captain Kirk in order to get on with what they were doing, but I reckoned I could duck that bit. I wanted most of all to be Lieutenant Uhura, especially in season 1. On the show, she got left behind more than I liked, but in my games she had adventures too, while Kirk was busy, and everyone was happy. The Star Trek future was big and wide and there was plenty of space for girls like me.
I was a bookish child, and having discovered sf on tv, I went looking for it in the library. The books I found -- Andre Norton, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and so on -- were fun, but there wasn't an awful lot of space for me. That was... It felt odd, because Star Trek had told me there was room for adventurous women in the future. But I kept reading, and, at around 15, I found Samuel R Delany's Babel 17. I had wanted to be Uhura, because she got to help Kirk and Spock in their adventures. I *really* wanted to be Rydra Wong. The book was all about her: every character, every situation, every concept revolved around her and her talents and skills and actions. Rydra Wong saved the world because she was who she was. She wasn't in the right place at the right time, she wasn't an assistant or a prop to be rescued. She didn't take time to stop and nurture her crew or sympathise with her man. She was the centre of her own story. Until I met her, I hadn't realised how unusual that was. Women and girls in the books I read were forever interrupted by their gender. They had to be good and do their chores, they had to stop what they were doing to help others, they had to put food on the table and teach children and clean up even in the middle of their adventures. They were never just heroes. They always had to take time out to live up to their social, female role. The only alternative was to behave like a man and expect another woman to look after you, too. The life of a female hero was full of giving up, being good, surrendering, giving way, giving in. Even in their own stories, their lives were already compartmentalised and full of duties that involved always putting others' interests and needs ahead of their own.
Nobody in Narnia expected Peter to take time to check that everyone was fed. When Susan did -- and it was a sensible thing to do -- she was told off for fussing. Boys' books were full of exploration and adventure. Girls' books were all about looking after others, helping and learning your place, unless you were a tomboy,
I never liked those tomboy girls. I thought they were mean and selfish and that, if I met them, they'd probably turn out to be bullies, too. They usually bullied the non-tomboy girls they shared books with.
Uhura was different. So was Rydra. So, when I met them, were Anne McCaffrey's female heroes. Lessa had her own dragon and went her own way -- and was proved right, over and over. Sara saved her love interest, saved herself, and solved an intergalactic mystery, all while dealing with being marooned on an alien planet. Helva was her own space ship, saving lives and solving problems over and over. They were all at the very centre of their own lives and no-one expected them to step aside.
I wanted that future so much and science fiction told me I would have it.

Science fiction lied. As I got older, not only did I see the insidious cracks in the futures I loved (the clothes, the endless kissing of Kirk, the problematic nature of some of McCaffrey's ideas) I also saw how rare these women were. For every Rydra, there were 40 interchangeable space babes, screaming, being patronised, being handed out as prizes. Female space captains, once marooned, needed to have photogenic lesbian sex with their colleagues for the enjoyment of the male gaze -- women need sex and they need it with someone else, they cannot be fulfilled alone. Their male counterparts were above such needs. (Thank you, John Varley.) Female scientists were plains and marginalised and developed inappropriate crushes which made them a hazard to themselves and others (thank you, Asimov). Women's main fulfilment having babies, even if they also enjoyed astrophysics on the side (thank you, Heinlein). Many books did away with women completely, except perhaps as a two-line secretary or left-behind wife.
And women were nearly always young -- men could be any age -- and nearly always pretty. Star Trek had offered me women of varied ages in various roles. Star Wars existed in a galaxy that seemingly held only one woman who could talk or act -- and she was captured and made to wear a leather bikini. No-one made Han Solo dress in a g-string while captive. Society told me, as I went on into my 20s and 30s, that things were better now, that women had equal rights. But the futures I was shown by the genre I loved seemed narrower and narrower. Book after book had no space for me, except as a handmaid, a nursemaid, a servant, a person who remained a perpetual walk-on in their own life. In Dune the Bene Gesserit manipulated worlds, changed lives, and came in all ages and sizes and colours. But all that energy was focused on achieving the perfect male saviour, and once he existed, the women in that world -- in the sequels -- went back to being love-interests, mothers or bad girls who needed controlling. Babylon 5 offered a future rich in philosophies and cultures, with fully-rounded alien characters, and men of all ages and sizes and colours and degrees of attractiveness. But for any woman over about 30, any woman of colour, any plain woman, any woman who was not super-model-thin, any woman who didn't want a life that revolved around a man, that future offered only erasure. The inconvenient women, the women who wanted to be at the centre of their own lives had been written out of existence. There's no room in the future for Rydra Wong. The Battlestar Galactica reboot looked better, was better in some ways. Women could hold power without also being 25 and pretty, drink, swear, sleep around, fly fighter ships, be negative and cruel and manipulative and complicated -- just like the men. But they had to be white, pretty much, they had to fall in love with men (the one lesbian turned out to be Evil). They might have special destinies, but they had to take time-out to endure rape, to find True Love. They couldn't have a story that did not involve them caring for a man.
No woman could have a share in the future unless she placed a man at the centre of her life. No woman could have a future for herself. Over and over, that was what the books, the shows, the films told me. The future is shiny and exciting and male. There is no space for me, except as an adjunct, a prop, a decoration. There is no life4 for me except as someone male's servant. At some point in the 90s, I began, slowly but surely, to drift away from science fiction. I'd been promised a future full of agency. Instead, I'd been told to keep my place, be pretty and focus on men. Oh, there are still books out there that delight me, new Rydra Wongs, but they are few and far between and they are getting rarer. For every Torin Kerr (from Tanya Huff's fine Valor series)< there are 20 Joe P Sciencedudes. Rydra is a fully-rounded person with a life outside her book and her companions. She's not a 'kickass heroine', battling vampires or space slugs to hide the pain of abuse, and only really finding fulfilment when she meets the right man. She's not a photogenic star captain written by a man, having tomboy adventures in a skin-tight suit. She's herself.
And now I live in the future. On all sides, I see women beleaguered: storms over sexism in sfwa, harassment at cons, book shops that privilege the work of men, reviews skewed towards male writers, images that tell me that I must be young, thin, white, pretty, or else I must just not exist at all, just like in Babylon 5. I see gifted women writers ignored, dropped by publishers, trolled and derided. And over and over what I see praised and promoted in my genre are stories about men, futures for men, lives that revolve around men. I see a future that's a vacuum for women.
I don't like it. I don't want to be erased. I want Rydra Wong and Torin Kerr and Uhura with her own command. I want to be allowed to breathe.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
You taught us: girls should be seen (prettily) and not heard, and we learnt to listen and be polite and nice and charming.
And you blame us now, when we fall back, for not speaking out.

You taught us: nice girls don't show off, and we learnt to keep our abilities and ambitions low key and out of sight.
And you blame us now if our achievements go unrecognised, for not drawing attention to our work and reprimand us if, with our courage in both hands, we do self promote, for being pushy and strident and inappropiate.

You taught us to be helpful and supportive to others, and we learnt to put you first at all times.
And now you take our help and support and labour for granted.

You taught us our value lay in our looks, and we learnt to hate our faces and bodies.
And now you call us vain or trivial and judge everything about us by our looks.

You taught us our anger is ugly and unacceptable, and we learnt to squash it down inside, to turn it into depression and eating disorders, anxiety and pain.
And now you call us emotional and unbalanced and irrational.

You taught us we come second, and we learnt to lose gracefully and put ourselves last.
And now you blame us for being doormats and tell us we should be more assertive.

You taught us our ambitions and dreams were silly and we learnt to release them or put them off
And now you tell us we should have tried harder.

You taught us we had to wait our turn, and we politely stood in line.
And now you tell us we're too old.


Yesterday was a bad day: I was running on very little sleep and in pain, and the internet was full of spite and anger, over reviews, over Evil Old Fans, over women who speak up and male authors who object. Over lack of diversity and prejudice and abuse. All day I watched men complain and demand, and women of all ages try at length to find answers and compromises, to help, to support, to nurture, to explain, to ameliorate. And the men ignored them or said 'Not good enough.' I noticed the Very Important Men interact with each other and reflect each other and ignore all female input, unless it came from a very small selection of Women Who Matter, who were almost all young, pretty and successful, and usually also white and heterosexual and able-bodied.
I saw, in particular, older women of all races say and do intelligent, positive things, and be ignored. And I saw men of all ages tell those older than them to step aside, and then mansplain when those same older women raised issues of ageism. 'Oh, don't worry,' they said, 'we'll honour women. Look over there, at that young hot woman. It's okay, we're on your side.'
On our side if we are young and hot (in face or form or talent.)

There is no end to patriarchal and racial dominance while debates are controlled by white men and while entrances are guarded by them. There is no equality when only one elite group controls what equality means. Equality under the hand of the privileged leaves their privilege intact. It comes at a cost not to them -- which it should -- but at the less privileged groups who surround them.

I spent most of yesterday fighting this fight, neglecting my writing, clamping down on my physical pain and the emotional pain building inside.
I have your backs, all you men who want things. I was trained to serve.
When in Nine Hells will you have mine?
la_marquise: (Caspian)
The NHS, the brilliant, life-saving creation of Aneurin Bevan, is 65 today. In those 65 years, it has saved millions, prevented epidemics, given millions back their health, helped millions deal with complex medical needs. It is a beacon of altruism, kindness, decency and genuine social equality. When it comes to health care in the UK, we really are 'all in it together' because it is there to help all of us, regardless of colour, gender, sexual orientation, creed, class or wealth status.
The Greed party and their friends want to take this away from us. They want to cream off lucrative services as money-making presents for their fat cat friends and selves. They continue to subscribe to free market ideology in the face of 30 years of evidence to the effect that unregulated markets solve nothing, create, sustain and increase inequality and destory lives, societies, cultures and economies. The majority of the population of the UK is opposed to this policy of privatisation for its own sake (and to line the pockets of the wealthy even further).
I'm proud of the NHS. I'm proud to live in a country that created it. (There are many things about the UK of which I am not proud at all. But I am proud of this one thing.) I support the NHS wholeheartedly.
We need to keep fighting for it. We need to do our best to ensure it's there to help, to support and to save those who come after us.

Skirt of the day: blue batik print.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
Lots of discussion this week of domestic violence and also of how being able to be polite and civil in the face of attacks is in many ways an artefact of privilege. These are excellent things that need discussing. Speaking truth to power is vital and for many it's critical to their survival.

Abuse survivors, and especially survivors/victims of domestic violence often keep up extreme public and private politeness as a matter of safety, however. Speaking back feels deeply unsafe in all circumstances. It can lead to harm. Their politeness is an artefact of abuse and a protective mechanism, not an artefact of privilege. Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, class and cultural boundaries.
It isn't a simple issue and there are some people who are caught between two fires in this debate.

I absolutely support the right of those who are subjected to abuse, oppression, elision and exclusion to shout back, to push, to demand. This is not an area in which there can be compromise.

But there are also people of all races and backgrounds for whom this option is never available and they may speak and act as they do because it is their only safety.

You may now drop the internet on my head.

Edited to add: an excellent discussion of abuse victims/survivors and psychology by Lois McMaster Bujold here -- http://lists.herald.co.uk/pipermail/lois-bujold/2013-January/116928.html Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] mmegaera for the link.
la_marquise: (Marquise)
Not everyone on the internet agrees with each other. Not everyone is kind or nice or decent. Some people are controversial, for good or for bad. It's part of how we are as a species -- we argue, we confront, we question. Some people are painful to know, to read. Some people speak frightening truths.
Some people are just disgusting -- racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic -- the list goes on. Usually, when I see such people in action, I back button, refuse to give a platform to their prejudices.
Not today.
Today, writer and blogger Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, has called a fellow writer -- a gifted, intelligent, brilliant woman writer of colour -- inferior and uncivilised on the grounds of her skin colour.
This man stood as President of sfwa and failed -- but some people voted for him.
This is not acceptable . Not in any way acceptable. I cannot read his words and stay silent. No, Mr Day, you do not get to say that and be allowed to pass in silence. You don't get to pull your 'freedom of speech' card on me. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, applies to all parties. You've had your say.
Here's mine.
It's you that's uncivilised. You are a racist, sexist bigot and I am ashamed to be in an organisation which contains you. I intend to write to sfwa petitioning them to withdraw your membership. In the country I come from, what you posted is hate speech. You are of course free to dismiss me as a feminazi, to deride my opinion on the grounds of my nationality (I'm British), to claim I have no right to any opinion, to post insults about my writing, appearance and career. I don't care. I've had enough of you and the culture of prejudice, privilege and institutionalised abuse that you represent.
And you don't get to silence me.

I'm not linking to his blog. I'm not interested in increasing traffic for him. Readers can find it if they wish.
la_marquise: (Caspian)
This is long, but please read this. And, if you like it, please pass it on.

I have said this before: I have said this for years, if Baroness Thatcher is given a state funeral, I will leave the country for the day, because what her policies did, what her belief did, what her legacy did, is doing to this day are things that are anathema to me.
But we must not speak ill of the dead. (Not unless they are poor or powerless or long gone or far away. Not unless they are of no use to our masters, the oligarchs of wealth whose trans-national networks run our world.) And I did not, in her declining years, wish Baroness Thatcher harm -- dementia is harsh enough. I wished her only obscurity. It was her legacy I wanted -- I still want -- to see dead.
And that legacy lives on, on blunderbuss, cudgel limbs, on heavy crushing feet marching one and on over the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the outsiders, the misfits, those with mental health issues, the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, those without important friends or influence, women, QUILTBAG people, people without UK citizenship, the powerless. The hunger of holy free market capitalism for new flesh is limitless, and it has no feelings. It has no empathy. It has only the drive to acquire, to grow, to possess -- and the devil take all but the winners.
Alive or dead, Baroness Thatcher doesn't matter any more, because this great devouring ideology outlives her, infests the policies and actions of our masters on all sides of the political spectrum. It gave birth to the over-heated banking bubble and its consequences. It trailed our double dip recession on its wings. It lies heady on every word uttered by Cameron and Osborn and Gove and Duncan Smith, just as it pervaded those of Blair and Blunkett. It handed over utilities and hospitals, newspapers and infrastructure to the moneyed few and left them free to treat those things as simply sources of profit. It left them free to plunder, to cheat, to evade taxes and responsibilities -- and to publish as truths self-serving (power-serving) lies about benefit claimants and immigrants, trans-people and asylum seekers, lone-parent families and people with serious mental health issues.
It tells us that there is no money for schools, to help the poor and those who are socially, physically or psychologically disadvantaged, though there is money to help banks. There is no money for compassion, for help, for support, but there is money for tax cuts for the rich. There is no money for low earners or the unemployed -- and these groups must be pursued and measured and harassed to ensure they get even less, whatever the cost --- but the cost of pursuing those individuals and companies who evade and avoid tax is far too high.
And there is £10 million available to pay for a ceremonial funeral for a multi-millionaire.
And we must not complain or protest, because we must not speak ill of the dead. We must accept censorship, because we must not upset or offend.
Though it's fine to upset and offend the relatives of the dead poor, the dead weak, the dead powerless. It's fine to upset and offend those who still live in the communities that Thatcher's policies, Thatcher's legacy have destroyed. It's fine to upset and offend those who have suffered through care in the community, lost relatives to superbugs created by the outsourcing of hospital cleaning, lost people to poverty, seen sisters, daughters, mothers abused and killed because the refuges were closed. It's fine to insult and offend victims of domestic abuse, asylum seekers, the homeless, the unemployed, those driven to illness through year-on-year 'efficiency gains' and institutional bullying in the public sector, those burdened with debt due to student loans and fees, to wages that are below the living minimum.
Those people don't matter. They aren't influential. They need to remember their place -- which is in silent acceptance, without protest.
I am not downloading songs. I am not dancing in the streets. There is nothing to celebrate in this death. But I am protesting, loud and clear. But not about the memory of Baroness Thatcher. I'm protesting about the insult this ceremonial funeral represents to all those her legacy has harmed and still harms.

This is how.
I don't have £10 million. I don't have anything approaching it. But I can find some spare money, and, on Wednesday, when Cameron is trying to ensure he stays in power by pandering to the right, I'm going to make a donation to a charity that works to help those groups that Thatcherite economics and Thatcherite lack of compassion is harming, day on day. And I'd like you to join me. You get to choose your charity -- there are many to choose from -- Shelter, MIND, Help The Aged, women's refuges, charities that work with underprivileged children, MENCAP, charities that help those with physical challenges, charities working with asylum seekers, any group anywhere that is fighting to undo or at least mitigate the effects of Thatcherite 'I'm All Right Jack, Greed is Good, cut help for the weak and give more to the strong' policies. I'm going to be donating to MIND, because Care in the Community was wrapped up as inclusive but turned out to mean little more than abandonment and abuse, because mental health services have faced 30 years+ of cuts and these cuts kill.

Please join me.
la_marquise: (Goth marquise)
I do not, if I'm honest, care much for zombies. They squick me. I'm not keen on anything which seeks to eat me alive: call me a coward, call me atavistic, but when it comes down to it, the idea of being ripped to pieces simply does not appeal. Nor would I wish that fate on others. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I'm just not keen on the whole being chewed on thing. Sharks? Beautiful creatures, in need of respect and protection. Alligators and crocodiles the same. But do I wish to share space with them? No, thank you. I will fight to protect their environments, but I will not get into that water. (Nor the swimming pool, until I've checked it thoroughly. And as for blue bedsheets... Well, let's just say that the marquis has a wicked sense of humour sometimes.)
And at least sharks and alligators would have a reason for eating me. They are living creatures, they need to feed. Zombies, in popular culture mode, not so much. The mass market zombie exists to create fear. It's a mindless, unreasoning thing, without scruple or thought or code, its sole function is to consume.
Which was, of course, the point George Romero was making when he filmed Night of The Living Dead all those decades ago. Across the western world, human volition, human agency, is stripped away by advertising and big business, replaced with desires for more possessions, more wealth, more for the self. They consume, therefore they are. It's a 70s vision of a world in which the culture of mending and making do was slowly being replaced by one of throw-aways and expensive, often false, short-cuts. Capitalism eats itself and looks for more.
And yet, even in the disillusioned 70s, Romero's films were cult, not mainstream. The vampire, the ghoul, the werewolf remained mainly in the realm of Hammer Horror and straight-to-video.
I don't know what changed. I'm not that clever. I don't have a clear-cut explanation for our twenty-first century Dawn of the Undead. And yet, and yet... Vampires and werewolves have minds and wills, can be spoken with, reasoned with, can be projected onto ourselves. Zombies? I'm not so sure. If the vampire is the secret lover and the werewolf the troubled misfit self, what is the zombie, that mind-stripped, ever-hungry, massed, unrelenting threat? What are we afraid of in our bubbles of things, our palaces of possessions? What lurks, just out of sight, trying -- or so we fear -- to steal our comfort? What haunts the heavy type of the tabloids?

The poor.
The immigrants.
The foreigners.
The stranger.
The have-nots.
The people who aren't like us.
The excluded.

They -- and it's always they, not us -- want our comfort. They want our privilege. They want homes and jobs and health care. They want food and clean water. They mass at the gates of the rich man's ghetto, on the steps of the corporation headquarters, on the refugee boats, at the soup kitchens and food banks, in the dole queues and on the street corners, hoping for their share. When they go through legitimate channels, we call them scroungers. When they reach out and take, we call them looters and thieves. When they ask why they can't have a share, we talk of deficits and boundaries, cuts and social necessity, responsibility and 'we're all in this together'. But we don't open the gates. Some of us want to, but are prevented by others with more power. Some of us stumble and are thrown out to join the mass outside. Many of us read the words of the red-tops and identify ourselves as the inhabitants of the mansions and the boardrooms, not realising that, to those who really do, we are just another type of danger, another hungry mob to be barred.
To be turned into demons. They are never counts or earls, those zombies. They aren't beautiful, they don't tug at our heartstrings. They're dirty and nameless, the mob, the crowd. They're the underclass of the undead world.
They're the underclass. The recent obsession with them speaks too closely, to me, to the fears that we are encouraged to feed, the interests we're encouraged to support, the image we're supposed to uphold -- that property is sacred, that rights are only for the few and that anyone new or different asking for help is out to eat our brains.
They're the midnight fear of big money, the Paris mob at the doors of Versailles, the poor asking for a fair wage and decent working conditions and decent treatment.
And popular culture -- that huge consumerist money-making machine that sucks in the beliefs and possessions of other places and peoples and times and turns it into Product -- popular culture gift-wraps that fear of loss of privilege, that fear of having to share, and transforms those asking for change into a mindless crowd that will eat our brains.
They're a metaphor. But they're no longer the anti-consumerist image Romero offered. That appealed to the few. This new version appeals to the many, to everyone who does not want to share, to help, to support healthcare and a social contract. This new version is the capitalist nightmare, that the poor might ask for some of the wealth, that immigrants might want to live next door. It's our fear of change, of difference, of loss of those things with which we keep ourselves safe. I doubt that any of the writers who write zombies currently have any of these things in mind when they right them. Most of them, indeed, seem to me to be concerned with ways of rebuilding society, of improving and reshaping it. But the zeitgeist, the ubiquity of zombies concerns me.
Because in the end, we are being told we are right to fear those things which differ from ourselves, we are right to label them dirty, dangerous, wrong. The words of the writer are overwhelmed by the weight, the mass of the cultural load.
And that is why I don't like zombies.

Skirt of the day: cream, black and white tiered.
la_marquise: (Goth marquise)
I'm not a huge fan of sport, apart from tennis, and I'm more than capable of ignoring major sporting events while they're on. I'm also not at all a fan of competitions based on nationality, because to me, it seems they encourage all the worst forms of nationalism, jingoism and stupidity. In some cases, they fan conflict and hatred. There was a discussion of the skills and physical talents needed by sprinters last night on the BBC that I found disturbing, creepy and offensive, because it bordered on racial stereotyping, this time with 'genetics' as an excuse. I am going to write to them about this.

However, my mother came to stay with us last weekend, and she does like to watch the Olympics. So, while she was here, we spent a fair amount of time doing so, particularly track and field, which are her favourites. And I noticed something.

I'm feeling better than I have in years about my body. I'm not particularly fit, I'm not fashionably thin, I'm not pretty. But for the last week or so, I've felt at home in this too-tall, not-thing-enough, not-toned enough, not-young enough (all my usual mantras) body. It *works*. My legs can run -- not fast, but they do it happily. I can bend and reach, twist, turn and shape, I can pick up things and move them and make them, and it's all good. I feel normal.

It's down to all those fantastic women who I see using their talented bodies on the television, all those runners and shot-putters, tennis players, rowers, weight lifters, swimmers, riders, boxers, discus and hammer throwers. They are tall and short, they have broad shoulders or wide hips, they are large and small, they have long legs and short legs, square faces, round ones, oval ones. They're all different. Most of them are un-made up, they show me their everyday faces. The ones who are made-up (with the exception of the gymnasts, who are the sole ones who worry me) are clearly doing so for their own reasons and amusements. They have long hair and short. They are of all races. But what they have in common is that they live openly, unashamedly (as far as I can tell) in their bodies. They aren't airbrushed or photo-shopped, dressed to 'hide figure faults' or posed for specific angles. They just are. And I'm loving it. I love all these bold, brave, talented, *real* women. They make me proud of them, of their skill and talent and courage. They make me happy to have a female body, even though mine is nowhere near as fit, as young. They make me feel that I'm normal, because variety is normal.

I want them on my screen every day, because I love this feeling. I know that in a few weeks it will be back to ideals and horrors -- perfect women and 'failed' ones who are too big, too plain, too old, not good enough. That depresses me. I want younger women than me to see the variety of other women, to see women who love who they are, women who are clearly talented and gifted and wonderful without the trailing back-stories that tv drama demands. I want us all to feel that it's all right to be us, in all our sizes and races, ages and shapes. Thank you, Ye Shiwen, Tirunesh DiBaba, Shelly-Ann Fraser Price, Jessica Ennis, Shara Proctor, Nicola Adams, Gabrielle Douglas, Sanya Richards-Ross, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, Joanna Rowsell, Zhou Lulu, and all your sister athletes. You are making the world a happier place for other women.
And I'm really looking forward to the paralympics and even more awesome women.

Skirt of the day: green silk wrap.
la_marquise: (Default)
The thing is, I don't believe that anyone is born solely for the benefit of others. But neither is anyone born solely for themselves

That looks like an odd thing to say, I realise. But what I mean by it is this: unless you live in total isolation, you're part of a society of some kind or size. It may be as small as your immediate family. It may be as big as the world, and all the sizes in between. We are not born to be a solitary species: we flock, we gaggle, we clump, we clot. And when we do that, we have to deal with other people.

There are many different ways of doing that, of course, and they range from the intimate to the extreme remote, from simple to difficult, from pleasant to vile. We have to learn to adapt, to refashion, and, yes, to compromise.

Compromise is a dirty word these days. It's seen as weak and measly, as a halfway house that pleases and helps no one. But daily life is all about compromise, about negotiation, anyway, like it or not. We share space, we share resources, we hold open doors and exchange assistance. We walk further than we really wanted to, because the bus only goes so far or our friend can only drop us on that route. We make do, and, by-and-large, those around us do likewise. We co-operate. We do our best. Ideally, we do our best for others, as well as ourselves.

And we deceive. It seems that in every period and places, those clots of humans have sorted things so that some people get more than others, that some people get away with more than others, that some people receive less and give more. A lot of the time, those people who serve and don't receive have been women. Sometimes, shamefully, they have been slaves. Pretty much always, they are the poor. And more and more the justification is heard that those on top, those gaining most, somehow deserve that. They were born to it. They possess the right genitalia, the right skin colour, the biggest army or bank balance. They're special. They're above the rest, above regular social exchange, above -- it often seems -- the law. And when this happens, we get to the sentence with which I started. Some people are told they were born to benefit others. Other people are told they deserve to get the best of everything. It breeds resentment and worse. It breeds suffering and exploitation, needless death and pain, abuse and exploitation. It breeds oppression and violence. It breed entitlement behaviour and victim-blaming. It breeds laziness and cruelty and prejudice. It breeds a culture in which people believe they have rights but refuse to accept they might also have duties, in which they happily grab for themselves but begrudge giving anything, however small, to others. It breeds refusals to compromise, to consider the needs of others, to give up any piece of privilege or comfort, however small.

And that, frankly, stinks. You can believe, with Hobbes, that humans are naturally self-seeking and unpleasant, or, with Rousseau, that we are naturally decent and cooperative: that's up to you. But we are a social species: we can't get on without some form of society. But you cannot have a decent, liveable society without compromise, without limits on selfishness, on privilege and narrow-mindedness, and greed and entitlement.

We live now in a society where we are told that some of us are worth more than others based on financial value. We are told to support the interests of the rich at the expense of the interests of the many, of the poor, the deprived, the excluded -- and of ourselves. We are fed, frankly, bread and circuses, while the banks fiddle and society burns.

You can, of course, call me a hopeless idealist. ("You're a hopeless idealist, Kari.") When it comes to human nature, I fall somewhere between Hobbes and Rousseau. But I believe this: we can learn. We can think, we can ask questions, we don't have to let the big machines -- Big Money, Big Media -- roll over us. We can compromise. My comfort doesn't have to mean your misery. Your success doesn't have to mean you grind me under your heel. We can find a medium, if we have the will. We can share and support and be just a little kinder. It may not be the easy option. Usually, it isn't. And perhaps you can sleep at night, knowing you put yourself first, last, always. That's your choice. But I can't do that.

And so, Mr Cameron, I don't agree. I don't believe in me first and devil-take-the-hindmost, I don't believe in My Country Right Or Wrong, in I'm Alright Jack. We are, you claim, all in this together. That's true. But here's the thing: it's your turn, yours and your financial sector friends', to shoulder some of the burden and share some of the pain.


In traditional marquise fashion, I'm lobbing something at the internet and promptly vanishing for a while. I don't do it deliberately, I swear. Tomorrow, the marquis and I are off to look for yet more castles in Spain, and my internet access may be patchy. But I will listen and read and respond, I promise.

Skirt of the day: denim.
la_marquise: (Default)
Today's veto has really depressed me. Not the detail, but because of the triumphalist Little Englandism that it has brought crawling out of the woodwork. We need Europe to secure our long-term future. This isn't about 'sovereignty', it's about kow-towing to Big Capital and it's needs. The US won't support us even if we wanted it to (and opinions vary on that). I am sick and tired of the triumph of prejudice.
Off into the Word Mines to carve out some more Red Fantasy. A bas les aristos!
la_marquise: (Default)
First of all, please take the time to go here and write to your M.P. about Women's RIghts in Afghanistan, which are under threat as the west looks to make peace with the Taliban. We started that war: walking away now in the name of peace, but leaving women to pay the cost would be deeply unprincipled. No peace process should be begun that ignores or elides the dangers they face.
http://action.amnesty.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1194&ea.campaign.id=12155&utm_source=email&utm_medium=mass_email&utm_campaign=women&utm_content=afghan1_link2

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