Tag Archives: feminism

Hugo Award Reads: 2019 Short Story Nominees

Howdy, all!  It’s Hugo ballot season for me, and I am in the thick of reading a lovely pile of fiction and non-fiction (and graphic novels and media and art….) so I can cast my ballot for the 2019 Hugo awards.

I’m happy to see the Hugo nominations overall return to what I’d consider an all-round high level of quality. The “sad puppies” years crammed some real crap onto the ballot, to little end. If anything, I feel like the Hugo nominations are breathtakingly diverse this year, and women writers have overwhelmingly earned nods in most of the categories.

As per my usual, I like to blog my thoughts as I complete categories. I haven’t settled on my votes in this category yet, but if I were to cast the ballot today, here’s how I would rank these excellent works.

SPOILERS BELOW  I’m not going to run any endings here, but I recommend that you try to read the stories without any prior information, including my comments below, if you can. These stories are all VERY short – you can read each one in 15 minutes, on average, so there’s no reason not to enjoy them unspoiled.

  • “STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018)

Gailey packs into a very short story one of the best summarizations of the coming AI morality crisis that I’ve ever seen. It’s an excellent example of a highly crafted short fiction piece, not a word wasted, with most details implied rather than stated.

If possible, read this as a PDF rather than e-book, so you can see the markings as she originally intended. The piece is constructed as an editor’s handwritten notes on a galley, with the author’s responses. Their conversation in the margin amplifies the tension, driving home Gailey’s point with terrifying clarity. Her use of the short story form is exemplary, and I think she deserves top nod on my ballot.

If we do not begin now to recognize and address the moral code so thoughtlessly baked into our algorithms, we will not see the consequences coming until they’ve torn into us. Everything reflects a moral outlook; our choice is whether to acknowledge this and work to build tech tools that push us toward a society of fairness and goodness….or pretend that ignorance is an excuse for injustice.

Read Gailey’s story in the original layout, if at all possible. The handwritten notes make all the difference — they ARE the story here.

 

  • “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

As a former librarian and high school teacher and foster care relief parent, I found this story hit me in all the feels. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I processed this story in my gut, in the parts of me that carried the stress of kids who were deeply in danger when they had so little hope that life could get better. Seeing books as a balm in this world, the main character (a librarian) attempts to bring light to a young man’s existence by recognizing that “escapism” is sometimes a life survival skill.

The story structure is relatively traditional but with library catalog numbers inserted as a record of what the youth was reading, moving the plot forward.  It works.  I felt like Harrow gave us a good crisis (decision point) for the main character and a meaningful ending. Plus, I love books. And libraries.  Wins all around.

It’s possible that some might see this story as reinforcing white-saviorism, and I look forward to reading informed critique as more people read and vote in the Hugos. But I’ve known a lot of librarians and teachers who would throw lifelines to any kid foundering off the shore, so not sure that the racial tones here are the point or that they detract from the story.

  • “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018)

It was really hard for me to decide which of the next two stories I would place third. What is the determining factor? Is it theme? Artistry? Precision? Interest?  The ballot-filler’s dilemma.

This story is Djeli Clark’s interesting and fantastical (yet gripping and historical) jaunt through nine Black slaves whose teeth (supposedly) ended up in George Washington’s dentures. I had to stop steveral times and hit Wikipedia to fill gaps in my historical knowledge of slave narratives and culture. I hope this story makes it into millions of literature textbooks for that reason. It’s artful and provocative.

It’s 2019 (2018 when he published it), and #resistance is more important than ever. So is deconstructing the white imperialism and colonialism that’s so tightly wound into American history, we aren’t even aware of it…..until someone sets it in our faces that America’s first president owned scores of slaves and everybody thought that was normal. Even his teeth.

  • “The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)

Good fantasy stories nearly always involve magic (I’m here for it), and strong magical systems recognize that power doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The best authors infuse their magic with a cost — recognizing that nobody gets something for free. If you want to bend the natural order to your will, somebody somewhere will hurt for it. And even more basic, that power comes at a cost.

Pinsker, who is one of my favorite Hugo-nominated authors in recent years due to the amazing quality of her work, gives us a reason to question the cost of power, and the way that people who wield power on behalf of a ruler are complicit in those decisions.  It’s a vital theme anytime we question the morality of our government, so I’m not surprised Pinsker wrote published this in 2018.

So. When you recognize the cost, how do you balance the personal expense (power always takes a toll) with the social benefits? And who decides who wins?

Excellent story.  I may have to move this one up. *decisions are hard!*

The next two stories sit in the growing tradition of spec-fic authors subverting fantasy tropes, usually empowering the women and breaking down class and gender stereotypes. Naomi Novik’s excellent novel Spinning Silver is on this year’s Best Novel ballot for this very reason. I enjoyed both stories, not sure how I will order them on my ballot.

  • “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018)

Men. They are such heart-breakers. Erm, wait……

  • “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine 23, July-August 2018)

I’ve loved Brooke Bolander since I first read her blood-drenched story of cyberpunk revenge back in 2015 (maybe 2014?). Her style is straightforward with a strong focus on female empowerment. In the age of #metoo and #timesup, take enjoyment from this cross-species example of women sticking together to sort it all out.

**********

Honestly, I enjoyed every story I read in this category. Some are stronger Hugo nominees than others (depending on what criteria you use to make that determination), but that doesn’t diminish from each story’s value. If I were teaching this fall, I’d happily build a project around all 5 of these.

Why Don’t Women Write to the Editor? Because They’re Doing Absolutely Everything Else – The Atlantic

This short collection of women’s responses is a wonderful read.

It also helps explain why I blog so little these days. Why? Who’s reading? And I’ve got other stuff to do!

Letters: Why Don’t Women Write to the Editor? Because They’re Doing Absolutely Everything Else – The Atlantic
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/559946/

Men, Women, Dinners, and Access

I grew up in Fundamentalism with the phenomenon of men and women living under radically different holiness codes. One of the most notable, even to my young eyes, centered on the way men – especially married men – could not be in the room with a woman alone. For example, if the male church janitor was in the sanctuary cleaning up, it would not be considered appropriate for the church secretary (a woman, of course) to be the only other person left in the building.

When I was a teenager, my Christian school almost canceled a planned field trip because some parent of one gender canceled and that left only the opposite gender parent and I’m not really sure because even then it seemed weird to me that people were so worried about parents-without-their-spouses hitting the sack on the backside of a 711 or something.  I think somebody’s wife agreed to take a day off work to go on the field trip and protect the testimonies of all the parents involved.

(Man, if I’d been any more worldly-wise growing up, I would have raised several eyebrows at how often “testimonies” needed to be “protected.”)

When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and started a long march through chemotherapy. As a senior in college, I awoke one weekend to the nightmare that she’d had a stroke once the cancer hit her brain (or maybe it was the chemo; those particular drugs had a habit of triggering strokes) and had been rushed to the hospital. It was bad there for awhile, and I was 500 miles from home, and my parents didn’t really have the money to put me on a plane. So the youth pastor from my home church, a man whom I barely knew because he’d started working there after I went to college, graciously offered to drive down to Greenville from Western PA and pick me up for a quick weekend home to see my mom after she had brain surgery.  Problem was, he couldn’t be in the car with me for the ride home.  In Fundamentalism, that was a deal-breaker.  My agnostic, rock-band, techie brother agreed to do the ride-along job of chaperon, creating what must have been the Universe’s weirdest “buddy comedy road trip adventure” story of the year.

I’d pretty much called ‘bullshit’ on this whole paradigm when the head pastor of the church I attended in Greenville made a point in a sermon and then in a published article of expounding why, if he saw a single woman walking down the road in the pouring rain with groceries, he could not be expected to give her a ride. I don’t have a copy of the article and this was pre-internet, but someone on that side of the fence commented on the general gist of it in a post at TGC.

So this might explain how I went for years without any man touching me ever, even on the arm, even as a hug, even as a goodbye or hello, when I lived and worked and studied in Fundamentalist circles. It explains why, when I joined a PCA church in the early 2000s, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guy would tap my arm as part of normal conversation. Took me years to retrain my body that human contact is actually healthy and good.

*****
Vice President Mike Pence made a splash in January when it hit the news that he refuses to be in a room with another woman if his wife isn’t present. A lot of people outside conservative religious circles guffawed, but many of us – especially women – rolled our eyes and said, “Here we go again.”

Many people wrote good articles about how this is a form of gender discrimination. I liked The Atlantic’s piece: “How Mike Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women.”  In a world where men still serve as gatekeepers to power, barring women from the room unless there’s a chaperon around isn’t protecting either of them from wrongful accusation. It’s just keeping women out of the chambers of power.

A friend of mine is studying science at a nearby, large, Research One institution that shall remain nameless. She is a senior PhD student in a STEM field, highly capable and respected by her colleagues.  If she needs to use a particular piece of equipment in another lab, the professor (a man) refuses to let women into his lab unless there are other people present.  Since this student cannot control others’ schedules, she has sometimes lost her slot to work with this critical lab equipment because there were no other people around to “chaperon” their time in the lab.  But it’s ok – some guy got to jump in and take her spot, since apparently religious conservatives are so opposed to LGBTQ+ people that they refuse to consider them when building these holiness codes.

What makes this so galling is the way her science department and university administration cannot see that this professor’s holiness code has become a weapon against women in STEM at that university.  Instead, she’s noted that people are stunned when she suggests anything but admiration for this man “who cares so much about his marriage that he refuses to be alone with any woman who isn’t his wife! Isn’t that chivalrous?! Isn’t it grand?!”

No. It’s legalism, if we want to parse this through the lens of Christian theology.  God never said “don’t be alone with another woman.” What He said was, precisely, “Don’t be an adulterer,” which Jesus intensified as “Don’t lust after another woman in your heart.”  You can’t cut your heart out of your body, guys, so you’re going to have to rely on the Grace of the Cross for your sanctification, not your own rules about who’s sitting in the office after hours. [Please don’t bring up “Let not your good be spoken about as evil.” Not the point of that passage. If we want to play the proof-text game, then let me remind you, “To the pure, all things are pure.” So get your damn mind out of the gutter next time you see a man and woman together in a professional setting.]

And from a professional, “business” viewpoint, it’s sexism. The primary victim of all holiness codes are the women. In the name of protecting something good (marital fidelity), the brunt of the work falls on the women – not to be present if there’s a man doing his job; not to dress in a way that a man finds provocative; not to be available lest he want to rape her. Oh, sorry, I forgot we aren’t talking about the Stanford swimmer-rapist. 

Things were simpler, I realize, when the only power brokers in the boardroom, the lab, the classroom, or the pulpit were white men. That 1950s demographic profile does remain in many conservative circles, but in general American experience, things have opened up for us ladies.   ….Kind of.  OK, barely….. 😉

But I wish more men were out there expressing the outrage they ought to feel when their religious structures reinforce the idea that sexuality and attraction are uncontrollable forces in the universe; that women are temptresses and men are faithless ever; that a man wants only sex from the women he’s around; that people’s ability to claim any ridiculous thing about your reputation trumps the Great Commandments should you happen to see a woman walking in the rain and you’re the only guy in your warm, dry automobile as you pass her.

As a woman who’s married (19 years and counting) to a man who’s nothing like that, I’m offended on my husband’s behalf that people not only think like this, they celebrate people who do.  I don’t feel any need to track my husband’s movements via his iPhone or think twice about what he’s doing with his genitalia where other humans are concerned. Why? Because he’s a decent human, and I trust him. It’s part of what Love means when I think about my marriage vows.

*****

You don’t get to close your lab “in the name of Jesus.”  You shouldn’t applaud people like Mike Pence who use a non-biblical standard of sexual “purity” in a way that locks women out of the halls of power. It doesn’t matter whether Pence “intended” for that to be the effect. It IS the effect his holiness code has on the women around him.

You shouldn’t cancel your kid’s field trip for the sake of your testimony. (Good grief, who ARE your friends, and why do you keep hanging out with them if they are going to scream nasty things about your reputation the minute you set foot in an automobile with someone of the opposite sex?)

You shouldn’t avoid doing the right thing – the kind and loving thing – because you’ve built yourself a big ol’ holiness fence to protect your personal reputation. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to look rather messy.  At that point, you can either love your holiness code or you can love the person you’re trying to help.  You can’t do both.

Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important. | Tor.com

Great read. And marvelous film. Go see the movie, then read this analysis. (The whole thing.)

Much as silent film used to be able to reach across cultures and languages, Miller’s focus on action and emotion over dialogue and exposition allows us to experience the story in a direct, intimate way. The people who referred to this film as a “Trojan Horse” were completely correct—but Miller wasn’t smuggling feminist propaganda, he was disguising a story of healing as a fun summer blockbuster. By choosing to tell a story about how a bunch of traumatized, brainwashed, enslaved, objectified humans reclaim their lives as a balls-out feminist car chase epic with occasional moments of twisted humor, George Miller has subverted every single genre, and given us a story that will only gain resonance with time.

via Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important. | Tor.com.

Article: Reconciling Christianity and Feminism // Dianna E. Anderson

I appreciate articles which offer us a glimpse of the tension between personal faith and historic Christian tradition. I’ve rarely found anyone who attempts to hold both feminism and Christianity as complementary worldviews rather than as enemies. Yet Dianna Anderson is living that dream. So to speak.

The Atlantic did a short piece on her recent book Damaged Goods, where she writes as a committed Evangelical Christian about gender issues, sex, and womanhood. Though it sounds like her narrative doesn’t really marry these divergent viewpoints into a true harmony, I appreciate her willingness to live inside cognitive dissonance while she works it out.  It’s more honest than the “purity culture” narrative that Evangelicalism is trying to live with.

Anderson claims she has developed a whole new way of thinking about Christian sexual ethics, yet she refers to this casually as her “thing.” The personal quality of her argument doesn’t necessarily make it more persuasive; it would take more than 200 pages and a quick skip through history to reconcile two ideologies that have been defined almost wholly in opposition to one another.

But it is probably more honest. Anderson really wrote Damaged Goods because, as she puts it, “I felt like a freak because I was a feminist, a Christian, and a virgin.” For the next generation, this might be a useful framework for engaging with both Christianity and feminism, and one that will probably resonate: understanding the work of Jesus and the identities of women not in abstract political terms, but as glimpses of truth people use in shaping their own lives.

via Reconciling Christianity and Feminism in Dianna E. Anderson’s New Book, ‘Damaged Goods’ – The Atlantic.

The Ways Women’s Magazines Convinced Me I Must Earn My (Inherent) Worth | Thought Catalog

The problem is that you’re not supposed to linger in a perpetual state of “reaching for something more.”

You don’t divide your life between “periods in which you are transforming” and “periods in which you are living.” There is healing and experiencing, there is rest and adventure, but there is no behind the scenes, there is no show, there is no performance that you put on for anybody but yourself and your illusions.

via The Ways Women’s Magazines Convinced Me I Must Earn My (Inherent) Worth | Thought Catalog.

Gender and Calling: A few thoughts

Yesterday I wandered around in the not-all-that-brilliant observation that I can’t really get a grasp on my own calling (what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet, my personal mission statement, whatever you want to call it) without viewing that very question from within the complex network of relationships that surround my life.

We all draw circles of influence and relationship in our lives—often including spouse, parent, and employee (or perhaps entrepreneur).

And for me, as a woman within conservative Christianity living in America, that means I haven’t had an independent sense of my calling in life. It’s always been a calling alongside.

Let me hasten to clarify: I’m not complaining or unhappy with the alongside-ness of my calling. But I do want to pause to recognize what that means for me:

1. Because my calling has for the past couple decades been inextricably linked to my husband’s, I don’t plan clear, guiding goals for future accomplishments in my life and work (more than a year or so down the road).

I’ve never felt the pull toward the FUTURE the way Coart does.  Perhaps that’s a part of my personality – that I’m totally happy living “in the moment” – but that doesn’t match the way I view milestones at work: starting the new year, dreaming up a new project, thinking “what if we did this next year…..” is actually very energizing for me.

But I don’t seem to develop those same questions or daydreams about my work as a whole.  I don’t spend much time considering questions like “What if I started a company to ……?” “Should I be writing a book about …..?” “What big problem or need in the world would benefit from my skills and experience?”

2. Because my calling is alongside, I don’t pursue opportunities that would launch their own trajectory that could radically depart from Coart’s.

For example, I’m not pursuing any job openings right for any reason since he’s finishing a PhD within 18 months, and his future employment will make all the difference in where I end up living and working.

[Again, I’m not complaining AT ALL, especially since Coart has always been very conscious of what is best for the two of us together, not just me. And he’d be happy for me to launch something new.  And he provokes me to be a better version of myself (far better) than I would be on my own – more thoughtful, more analytic, more caring, more capable. I expect that he’s more disappointed at my vocational myopia than I am.]

3. And then there’s the really big one ….  Parenting.  Knowing that childrearing totally up-ends the apple cart of a woman’s career planning has had a profound effect on the way I “imagine” my life’s work and calling — and that has been true since the day I got married.

We don’t have kids (yet) but we both want to raise children. I assume kids will work their way into our lives sometime in the next few years.  We both want that.

I don’t plan for the future because, as a woman, I feel like I have very little control over what my future circumstances will be. 

And that plays out in a variety of ways, including this:

I know what I’m good at: provoking people to flourish as better versions of themselves (usually intellectually, sometimes spiritually).

But I can’t really tell you how that’s going to play out in the world as a whole, because I can’t lay much claim to controlling the context in which I do and will work.

And that, my friends, is kind of frustrating, honestly.