Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Will Count All The Ratios, And Count Them All Again

Renay:

This is not the first time I've seen one person's personal pledge treated as a targeted judgment against other people. It's not the first time I've seen men ignite the argument by being defensive. I find the argument of gender blindness suspect. I find most arguments about whether gender impacts someone's reading choices oblivious at best, and a bunch of dressed up, internalized, misogynistic malarky at worst, like we're some kind of post-feminist society and people making these claims sit on the board of High Overlords of Genre Progressives.

I rarely see general disinterest. I rarely see things like "That's cool, bro! Good luck!", followed, in my magical fantasy land, with some recommendations of books by ladies attached. What usually results from these "I just read whatever I want!" proclamations is more insidious. "I don't see/care about gender." gets attached as an faux-progressive rider and the resulting calls of bullshit on that antiquated gem leads to these people just chomping at the bit to prove they just read what interests them. They claim they don't make it about gender in exceedingly creative, offensive verbal acrobatics that erases the very real struggle a lot of women in genre communities are still dealing with. So we have to live with the bile of defensive arguments foaming from the mouths of otherwise level-headed reviewers as they transform into Misogyny Monsters and start flipping tables because they have never learned to stop and think about why their first response is to grow defensive or disclaim their position. It's as if they've never learned to stop and listen. Women can face problems in every step: getting published, read, listened to. It can be a trial to be heard as widely as their male counterparts; to write, or do, or say something and watch everyone walk past it for the same thing written, done or said by one man, or two, or three. Listening is a key component in learning new and fascinating things about people who have different life experiences from you. Listening is a progressive act. Gender blindness is not.

And the obvious response is, what happens when someone listens, considers, and still disagrees with you? Haha, trick question. In this context, "listen to the women" means "shut up and let the self-appointed arbiters of women's interests lecture you until you agree." Peezus Myers, with his usual ham-fisted, dunderheaded subtlety, said it flat-out: by definition, there can be no rational grounds for disagreement with his social-justice interpretation of feminist truth. Sorry, dudebro, but your hyperskeptical objections have already been anticipated and defined out of valid existence.

No doubt she'd disagree, but I hear what she's saying. I've heard it before, expressed without the snark so as not to make anyone feel defensive, and yet I disagreed with it then, too. I simply do not feel that achieving gender parity in terms of authors getting published and reviewed in high-profile outlets is an important, let alone morally significant, issue. As it stands, it may not be fair, and it may not be a pure meritocracy, but it's not like it's a civil rights issue either. A 50% ratio of female authors whose SF/F books get reviewed by influential journals is not going to improve anything beyond the self-satisfaction of guilt-ridden people who yearn for such tangible metrics to reassure themselves that they aren't unwittingly contributing to someone's oppression. I feel that fixations with imposing such perfectly-divided pie charts onto various human endeavors, especially art, is rationalism taken to a ridiculous extreme. I don't believe that the trendy cultural-studies obsession with privilege and axes of oppression has any relevance outside a broad, abstract context of dry statistical analysis, and most certainly not on the level of individual preference. And most damning of all, I don't accept that my maleness predisposes me to those opinions, nor do I accept the unfalsifiable, Freudian-style attempts to read my mind and tell me why I really think like that. I don't care in the slightest if that's a "progressive" stance, all I care is that it's not deluded.

Seeing this kind of argument actually offends me. I mean, whether we're talking about genre fiction or lit-rah-chur, it's all on an artistic continuum to me. Popular art can be just as capable of opening up wide vistas of imagination for fans. There's no telling what sort of prose or imagery will leave a profound impression on an individual reader, or how exactly it will inspire them. And so, to see it treated as if the most important thing about a novel is the gender of the author or the protagonist, as if the main incentive to identify with a novel is to claim the author or the hero as a member of your "team", as tally marks on an irrelevant scoresheet, irritates me to no end. It's no less crass or philistinic than seeing some hack blog-pundit analyzing a blockbuster movie in order to claim it as a parable in support of whatever fucking news-cycle effluvia is currently occupying the web's ephemeral attention span.

Let me take a little detour here: I listen to a lot of music. Much of it could be loosely placed on the "rock music" family tree, especially when I was younger and tended to favor British/American groups of young guys in four-or-five-man bands with guitars and keyboards. Even then, though, I was often frustrated by the way my musical taste was dismissed by uninterested people like my parents, who said it was all just a bunch of noise. What was wrong with them? How could they not hear or feel the obvious differences between aggressive thrash metal and mainstream hard rock? How could they lump bluesy rockers in with punks? How could they be so blind and deaf to the liberating, consciousness-expanding nuances that I perceived everywhere?

Nowadays, my palette is much wider, and even though the common denominator of a lot of my taste could be described as popular music performed by bands or singer/songwriters, the variety in styles and sensibilities makes a mockery of such crude reductionism. There are entire worlds contained in my musical collection. Only a fatuous, facile fuckwit, or a writer for a shallow pop-culture blog, but I repeat myself, would think that all music made by white and/or male artists somehow presents a monolithic perspective.

It's no different when it comes to books. It's an exotic fetishizing to see, say, female or black authors as in possession of some unique perspective by simple virtue of their gender or race, as if they've all had the same experiences across the board, as if those experiences are so specific to one demographic that no amount of sympathetic imagination by an outsider could approximate them.

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