Can Men Discuss Sexism?

“If a male is intrinsically incapable of contributing valid criticism of a feminist critique, then what is the point of a male trying to understand the critique at all?” ~ Paul Crider, in a measured response to the Sady Doyle post I tried to give a measured response to the other day.

This whole thing has been bothering me way too much, and so I should probably just listen to words of wisdom, pack up my things, and go home – but I just can’t. I’m a damn fool probably. I really want to engage people who hold views different from my own, to see why we disagree on something when we probably shouldn’t, or even when we probably should. I mean, yeah I’m a white male so there’s plenty I don’t understand about violence toward women. It’s not like I can just pick up a book and understand like magic how women perceive the portrayal of women in fantasy or any other literature. You know nothing Jon Snow. I get this. I’m going to have a limited perspective. The point is to get men to think about these things, though, so that they can be more sensitive to things like sexual violence, sexism, objectification of women, etc.

And I do think about it, quite a lot actually. I think fantasy used to be a genre largely dominated by flat characters – but the most two-dimensional, unrealistic characters were almost always the women. Modern fantasy has stepped past that. Both Martin – and to an even more extreme level, R Scott Bakker – have actually tried to tackle sexism in the worlds they create. These are feudal societies, patriarchal cultures. In Bakker’s books especially, women are truly second-class citizens. His female characters are camp-followers, whores, illiterate. There’s lots of rape, and it’s always an act of violent domination and terror, and male possession of women. It’s hard to read. Truly ugly stuff. Reading Bakker I kept realizing how good it was that we lived in a day and age where women were at least treated better than that.

Bakker and Martin, I believe, are critiquing patriarchy and sexism and rape, not glorifying it, in ways that fantasy authors have basically dropped the ball on for a long time. They’re both men, too, so they open themselves to these critiques.

Anyways, my larger point is that when you immediately begin outlining who can and cannot have a voice in the conversation in the first place, it becomes very difficult to reach agreement or even amicable disagreement. It’s unhealthy, I think, for the future of women’s rights and feminism to say that only women have a valid opinion and that nothing even sympathetic men have to offer up short of bland mimicry is worth a damn.

Here’s Sady in her comment thread:

@Trolls, people explaining why George R.R. Martin isn’t sexist. Your names, thus far, have been:

John G. [deleted for rudeness]
John D.
Paul
E.D., who runs a blog on “Gentlemen” [deleted for blog spam]
Jake [deleted for starting off with “Sady=cunt”]
Alex

I’m noticing a theme here, but what can I say? I am but a young girl who knows little of blog war. And tends to think women are in a better position to explain What Is Sexist than men are.

Look I don’t run a blog on “Gentlemen” first of all, that’s just the catchy title. And I get more traffic than Sady (typically), so I’m not trolling for links or looking to steal away readers. I’m looking to start a conversation. Hey, maybe Sady’s right and she knows what’s sexist because she’s the gatekeeper of the discourse or something, but I’m not sure. I find this pretty unsatisfying. I mean, if you can’t see how Tyrion himself was sexually assaulted by being forced by his father – his father! – to rape his wife, then you obviously have some blindspots of your own. Sexism has always been worse for women – I think Martin’s work illustrates this quite clearly – but it cuts both ways. Deciding that nobody but feminist bloggers have any right to talk about what is or isn’t sexist is silly. It’s like me deciding that nobody but True Fantasy fans can discuss what fantasy is (though yeah, the stakes are lower, I get that).

In any case. This is hopefully all I have to say about that. I realize that my first attempt to write a thousand words or so in response to Sady’s post was just me “trolling” since the mere act of disagreeing about What Is Sexist now constitutes trolling. So I’ll go gently into this good night. Sometimes, though, you have to get it off your chest before it becomes a monkey on your back.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
TwitterFacebookRedditEmailPrintFriendlyMore options

255 thoughts on “Can Men Discuss Sexism?

  1. Regarding your previous measured response – I agree that it’s good for books to depict sexism. And I haven’t actually read Martin, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of Doyle’s critique. But there is a line where frequent depictions of rape stop looking like a portrayal of a misogynist society, and start looking like a deeply creepy sexual fetish, or at least an obsession. I would say, as a rough estimate, that if 1) the rapes are actually described and 2) they form the backstory of, say, half or more of your female characters, you’re over that line. Someone who’s read the books can let me know how Martin stacks up relative to that.

    On the broad point – I absolutely believe that men can discuss sexism, and that they don’t have to assume they’re wrong if one woman disagrees with them (because women do have a broad spectrum on opinions on feminist issues). Just keep in mind that things look different from the outside than from the inside, so women may experience things as sexist that you don’t find problematic.

    Oh, and another issue here may just be that blogs vary a lot. You guys created this blog as a discussion forum, and it works relatively well as one. Some people, possibly including Doyle, use blogs as a place just to express their opinions, or even simply to vent, so trying to start a discussion there isn’t appropriate to the setting.

    Report

    • Katherine, thanks. That makes a lot of sense. I guess my frustration comes from this: if I post a link to a post of mine, I’d like to be told that’s against the rules in a way that doesn’t imply that I’m an asshole and then welcomed to post a comment without a link. Instead my next comment – with no link – was also blocked. And I’m labeled a troll and told that I’m a troll because I’m a man and so I don’t know what sexism is. That rubs me the wrong way no matter how different two blogs may be, or how limited my exposure to sexism may be.

      Report

    • Katherine – re: descriptions of rape in Martin’s books, it’s actually quite rare. It’s often back story, or implied, or it’s an event that is prevented or simply spoken of. I haven’t read all the books in a while, but I can’t remember many at all. Maybe someone can help me here?

      Report

      • It’s often an implied threat against women throughout all of the books, even for characters like Brienne. In many cases when women try to use it as a weapon against men, it’s turned against them. See, Lannister, Cersei.

        At the same time, I think Martin is trying to realistically portray how badly women really are treated in the society of Westeros (or elswhere). The fact that many of these women often end up in power is a testament to how women are often smarter than men. (Certainly smarter than Ned Stark as much as you’d like to admire him.)

        Report

        • That was kind of my immediate reaction to Sady’s post. “Rape and rape-threats happen a lot in GoT? Well hell, it’s the middle ages, that’s how they rolled back then.”

          Report

          • a different idea: When Things Fall Apart, rape happens. We see this in contemporary times, as well. Doyle sees Drogo/Dany as “rape/seduction”… I see it as a fairly-civil variant of “capture marriage”

            Report

    • In my opinion if one does not wish to have discussion, then one is free to disable comments. Nothing is stopping someone from having a private blog that is moderated to the point where only a select few of friends may comment and the internet-at-large has read only rights. It’s not that hard to set up and really if you’re not going to accept disagreement, and civil disagreement at that, then why not just have a website without a blog or at least better controls.

      This is 2011. You can say all you like on the internet and people, more than likely will not only disagree but post to say so.

      ~goes off to open an internet vendor for thick skins~

      Report

  2. At the end of the day, it has to deal with accumulated knowledge and the previous experience of the individual with whom you are exchanging views.

    If the last 5000 times she has posted something, she has received comments that fit into either the category of “YOU ARE A CVNT!” or “I have read your post and put together a fairly comprehensive list of reasons that you are a cvnt”, it’s likely that she’s going to read any comment that begins with “I have read your post…” and have a particular and specific emotional response.

    Now, of course, you may say “that’s not my fault! I didn’t do that to her! Those 5000 times had nothing to do with me!”

    And, of course, you are right.

    The fact that you are right changes approximately diddly squat.

    There are more than enough reasons for her to have reached the conclusions that she did about you that have nothing *ABSOLUTELY NOTHING* to do with you.

    So now what?

    Report

    • Jaybird – sure, this makes plenty of sense. I get prickly because I actually, you know, spent real time responding to Doyle’s post. I wrote a pretty long response, and I even spent some time re-reading and editing it which I don’t always do. This is a far cry from calling someone the s word. But I get written off because…what, because I have a blog with the word Gentlemen in the title? Okay, so accumulated knowledge can either force you to build walls all around yourself or it can lead to some sort of perception or wisdom or something…more productive.

      Report

  3. E.D., I think she and you are operating out of two different blogging paradigms. Full disclosure: 1) I usually don’t comment on Sady’s blog because I don’t know how to interact with her productively either, 2) I am tipsy as I type this. But I really think both of you have mistaken each other.

    What Sady is looking for on her blog is a “Yes, and” conversation. Construction. What y’all do over here is most often “No, but” / “What about?” conversation. Deconstruction. So to her, what she is doing (in the face of way worse stuff than “No, but”, and absolutely, I don’t think she’s right to lump you in with such nasty assholes, but you know, if I had to deal with every post I wrote getting comments calling me a cunt, I might be too quick to lump people who didn’t follow my rules all in together too) – where was I? Oh, right.

    What she is doing is running a “Yes, and” space. She’s pretty up front about that, and I think anyone who spends a decent amount of time reading her blog, getting to know her as a writer and community maintainer, would *know* that’s how she operates, and either engage or not, in that comment space, under the rules that are pretty clear.

    Likewise, I think anyone who hangs out on this blog for some time, makes the effort to get to know the regular bloggers and commenters, etc, would have a pretty clear idea of who you are, and in what spirit you are deconstructing / closely responding to posts, and would *never* lump you in with people trolling for blog hits. I certainly wouldn’t.

    It has generally been my experience that people who take the time to get to know each other and interact positively about points of agreement (or at least points of cheerful, rather than painful, disagreement, for both parties) are able to really listen to each other and sometimes even change each other’s viewpoints. Strangers who only come across each other on the internet when they’re butting heads? Usually just turn into negative examples for each other. Not *always* – I’ve seen it happen that antagonists become friends through long acquaintance – but usually.

    If you want to learn about this issues – if you want to have your viewpoint challenged/shaped/whatever – you’re going to do it through debating with yourself or with people who are already your friends, not from someone who was reaching out to people are as unhappy with the books as she is, and who was already feeling attacked and frustrated enough to frame that post the way she did. But I really don’t think seeking that kind of comfort from likeminded people is wrong – everyone deserves to have the internet conversations they find useful, with the people they want to talk to.

    I guess, short version: She’s not trying to tell you you can’t talk about it. You just can’t talk about it *with her*. I don’t like being filtered out of conversations either, but in this case, I really don’t think it’s about you. It’s about what she needs to do to enjoy her own corner of the internet, where people build on each others’ ideas, rather than honing them.

    Does any of that ramble make sense? Honestly, I wouldn’t normally think I know you well enough to talk to you like this, so I’m really hoping this came across as friendly/thoughtful, and not obnoxious/hectoring. If I missed that mark, I’m sorry.

    Report

    • PS For the record, I think it is decidedly not cricket of Jaybird to point me at things and encourage me to comment, and then steal my opinion, as I explained it to him yesterday, and express it more succinctly than I can (while putting his own spin on it) WHILE I AM TYPING. For the record.

      Report

    • Okay, this makes sense. This makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I quite understand it in a way that I can completely empathize with it, because I think I just rankle at any sort of unnecessary censorship, or self-inflicted bubble that comes at the expense of openness, but I do see what you’re saying.

      And really, for me the blogging thing is personal, and I really like it when people get personal and if you’ve read a few of my posts you know me well enough to speak your mind and I appreciate it a lot actually.

      Report

    • “It’s about what she needs to do to enjoy her own corner of the internet, where people build on each others’ ideas, rather than honing them.”

      That’s a very friendly way to say that she just wants an echo chamber.

      Report

      • ya. do remember, though, that some people who create echo chambers are doing it because disagreement will remind them of rape apologists, which will in turn remind them of acute psychological damage created by rape that happened to them.

        … in short, it’s not the same as the AGW thingy. ;-)[on either side]

        Report

    • All of that’s as may be, but to the extent that it’s true, it’s also damnably naive and unrealistic. This is the internet. Everything is public. If you want a private corner with which to exchange ideas with like-minded and affirming friends, you don’t set up a blog, you start an email list or a Google group or something. It really doesn’t strike me as fair to make a public posting and then complain when people try to talk to you about it, and Sady’s post and responses to critiques just come across as entirely lacking in good faith, not to mention immature and oversensitive.

      Report

    • What Sady is looking for on her blog is a “Yes, and” conversation. Construction. What y’all do over here is most often “No, but” / “What about?” conversation. Deconstruction.

      Maribou: brilliant, and limns the difference in M/F conversational styles in general. Gentlemen take heed!

      Report

      • Actually, I don’t think of them as M/F. Just situational. I think in real life, people switch between these two styles all the time, but on the internet, maybe most people are going for one or the other. I’d have to see some *really* solid studies to believe a strong gender bias though – or maybe I just tend to hang out with more flexibly gendered people than most?

        Report

        • I’m a guy, so I tend to like this combative style, but I know lots of girls who find this style of conversation uncomfortable one way or another. Also, compare with the difference between the ways men and womn shop.

          Report

        • I think this is a tendency that comes off of many contributing factors.

          Primarily, it’s a function of the direct community of contributors, more than anything else.

          “Yes/And” conversations generally come from those with tighter binds than “No/But” conversations. I’m very, very extremely wary of “Yes/And” conversations because I’ve seen groupthink destroy things much more thoroughly than principled dissent.

          Report

  4. Wow, great blog link greginak. Thanks!

    I think it’s very important for men to discuss sexism, and I am saddened by Sady trying to block people out from the discussion. Not only would it make men more aware of the unquestioned assumptions involved in their treatment of women (many of which they are completely unaware, see this completely bullshit question from eHarmony’s Facebook page as an example and list all the flawed assumptions)

    Not to dismiss how society really screws up women, but I think it’s also under-discussed how sexism and (the related) homophobia negatively affect men as well. For example, how is it all healthy to teach boys that crying (or expressing emotions other than anger in an outward way) isn’t masculine? Or for men to avoid showing any form of platonic affection for each other for fear of being seen as gay? (Luckily memes such as bromance are pushing against this trend) Men can be just as screwed up by society (but perhaps less commonly) as women are.

    Certainly, (straight) men still enjoy a privileged status in society, but what about the men who aren’t successful businessmen, lawyers, politicians, scientists, or doctors? How has the erosion of male privilege affected these men negatively? How have certain groups been able to exploit this loss of privilege to their benefit? I think ignoring or ridiculing these kind of questions because men “can’t” discuss sexism or because the issues men face do not compare to the ones women deal with constantly is counterproductive to the entire feminist cause.

    Report

    • On another note, perhaps I’m much more aware of these issues or they come up much more in my mind because I am a gay man who has had a lot of straight male friends. And honestly, some of the most insecure people I’ve ever met were straight men. So all you straight guys out there, don’t let that stupid sexist homophobic bullshit keep you down.

      And yeah, women go through a lot of crap too. For some reason, I seemed to have made a lot of friends with smart, tomboyish, and well endowed female friends lately. And I think part of the reason they like to spend time with me is that (a) I’m not constantly staring at their boobs, and so (b) I respect who they are as a person, and at the same time (c) I don’t perceive them as threats because men are always staring at their boobs. It actually really bothers me how one of my friends is actually a very smart and kind person, but she constantly puts on this mask of being a dumb, air-headed bimbo just because that’s what society expects of her.

      Anyway, I’ve had a few glasses of wine so I’m rambling.

      Report

      • There are some very insecure straight men (though with the real homophobic ones you do wonder sometimes if they’re really straight, and where all that anger comes from).

        Report

      • I think the sexuality of heterosexuals in general is policed in a way that is really excessive. I don’t really know why that is, but I’ve noticed most people’s response to that policing is to amp it up instead of criticizing it.

        Report

    • Aaron – all excellent points. Re: crying and not allowing men to have a more sensitive or emotive side – I think this actually really feeds into things like chauvinism and false confidence and homophobia. Sexual violence toward men may be more rare than toward women, but it’s also more taboo to discuss. If a boy has sex with a woman, the natural societal reaction is “Good for him, he got laid!” But a twelve or thirteen year old boy having sex with a grown women is still every bit as creepy and horrible as it is with the sexes reversed.

      This is why I keep hammering on the Tyrion thing. People naturally view his participation in the rape of Tysha as him being a rapist. But he was forced to have sex. I’m pretty sure if you’re forced to have sex, that you were raped. It may not be conventional, but it’s still forced sex, sexual assault, rape. We just don’t think about these things that way. This is of a piece with the humor that surrounds prison rape much of the time.

      Report

      • What happened to Tyrion is exactly sexual assault. Those words from his father (“Wherever whores go”) haunt him throughout his chapters in the novel, and I find that especially poignant as it’s clear it still affects him. I think people are often blinded because sexual assault is often associated with women or insertion (as sex mistakenly is) but there’s other ways for sex to be a form of abuse. I don’t know if I should be saying these things in a public forum, but 5 years ago I was sexually assaulted. My sister was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her (thankfully) ex-husband, (he’s lucky he’s still alive) so it’s something very, very serious to me. The way that society belittles the sexual assault of both men and women is horrifying and disgusting and makes the problem that much worse. More on topic, I guess Tyrion appeals to me because while he comes from an obviously privileged background (much like I do) he has the kind of traits that undermine that privilege. There’s certainly shortfalls to that upbringing, but being born into privilege and having it undermined is a wonderful (and painful) lesson in empathy and humility.

        Report

    • “For example, how is it all healthy to teach boys that crying (or expressing emotions other than anger in an outward way) isn’t masculine?”

      I hear a lot about how crying and showing emotion besides anger is not masculine or whatever, but I think our culture suffers more from liberal expression of emotion than vice-versa. America is kind of an anti-stoic country, where command of one’s own emotions is seen as necessarily leading to a ticking time-bomb situation or some other problems.

      Everybody is too emotional (and I realize you and I are talking about different things. I’m not criticizing you, just riffing off your point). Tantrums at the mall, road rage, shouting at people over the phone, drunks crying, every Internet forum besides this one: it’s all too much. People need to grow up and be adults and control their emotions.

      Report

      • Actually, I know what you mean. While it’s important to be able to express your emotions, there’s also appropriate times and places for it. At the same time, I think the idea of being able to control your emotions is problematic, though. You can’t really control how you feel about something – trying to stop feelings is basically repression. You can control your actions, though. So acting impulsively based on your immediate emotional reaction is more the problem in my mind.

        Report

        • Actually, we can control our emotions to a certain degree. A lot of motivational methods which I learned when I was a sales rep in Appco and a lot of the leadership seminars etc I went through talked a lot about how we could control not just our overt actions, but our emotional responses to situations by various methods like faking it until I actually felt wha I wanted to feel, Self talk, crazy rituals, attitude breaks etc. Now, they may not work all the time, and they can be difficult to implement, but they do have limited success.

          Report

        • That’s more what I’m talking about. To tie it back into sexism, looking at TV, we often see a plethora of stoic male characters who control and direct their emotions like Hume; this accompanied by unhinged female characters who can’t control their emotions.

          Report

          • More or less. Overly simplified, but that’s the general idea.

            This is not a sex-linked phenomenon. Both men and women have trouble expressing their emotions in a healthy way.

            I work at it and *I* have trouble expressing my emotions in a healthy way. Everybody does.

            Emotional conversations suffer from three competing factors: one, you have to acknowledge how you honestly feel about something – which is usually (if you’re honest with yourself) carrying a lot of baggage that isn’t directly tied to the “something”; two, you have to acknowledge how the other person honestly feels about the same something (ditto); and three, you have to both acknowledge that the something has an existence outside of how you both feel about it, which is sometimes more important about how either of you feel about it.

            Money conversations between spouses often fall into this trouble-trap.

            Compare:

            “When this happened, I felt like crap because of this”

            “When this happened, I wasn’t trying to make you feel like crap” (danger – the first person isn’t accusing you, they’re explaining)

            Conversation goes off rails.

            “When this happened, I felt like crap because of that.”

            “That happened because of this other thing, which… ah, you did because of foo, and that made *me* feel like crap”

            “You totally shouldn’t feel like crap because of that” (danger – dictating emotions is always bad idea)

            Conversation goes off rails.

            Everybody involved has to separate how they feel about something from the something, and discuss both of those things at the same time.

            Report

            • People often feel like they’re being personally attacked or criticized when they’re not. I agree with you that this isn’t sex-linked, but I think there is a double-standard. Men are expected to stoically weather criticism, while women are expected to go off the rails. A lot of the time these expectations can influence actual behavior. Look at “reality TV” for instance.

              Report

                • I’d say there’s definitely a selection bias. Stereotypical characters mean that the audience can concentrate on whatever the show’s producers want them to concentrate on.

                  An interesting twist on this is Mad Men, where Don Draper stoically manages all the problems in his life while his wife’s emotional state goes unhinged. Part of this is definitely commentary on the culture of the time, where men are able to run free and do what they want, while all the responsibilities of the family fall on the women. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen the show, but the parallels in how each character’s infidelity or lack of infidelity is handled are quite thought-provoking.

                  Report

    • Aaron,

      If I can recommend a fantasy work for you, I would suggest the most recent Rain Wild Traders trilogy from Robin Hobb. Sadly, I have to admit it isn’t her best work, but being a woman writer she has always confronted gender roles in her works including different definitions of masculinity. In her latest series she has several gay male characters, some in the closet and some not, and part of the narrative is contrasting the place of women and gay men in two distinct societies. Or better, in a highly structured society and then among those who escape that society looking for a world that is at once more primitive and more advance.

      It’s awfully cliche at times, like I said it is not her best work, but the issues are interesting and a breath of fresh air.

      Report

    • Read a book about spanish harlem that went into gendered roles,and how they practically forced men into drug dealing, as it was a better fit for the male role in the culture.

      Report

      • A friend of mine lived in the Philippines for a while, and he said the culture there was that it was masculine to have multiple families and to support them, so nearly every young man in the Philippines, if he respected his culture’s notions of masculinity, set about to impregnate as many women as he could support financially.

        Report

  5. That quoted comment is interesting, because my immediate thought was to wonder what we’d see if it were rewritten as:

    “If a white person is intrinsically incapable of contributing valid criticism of a critique of privilege and bias, then what is the point of a white person trying to understand the critique at all?”

    Report

    • But that wouldn’t be a fair rewrite. A fair rewrite would substitute racism for privilege. While privilege and racism are opposite sides of the same coin, they are different experiences.

      Privilege and bias are too vague to use in such a conversations. Everyone experiences a certain privilege and a certain bias. A black man might not enjoy white privilege, but he does enjoy male privilege. A straight black woman enjoys hetero privilege. On and on. I suppose you could get to extreme ends of the spectrum and find someone who is on the privileged side of all dynamics or the oppressed side of all dynamics, but that is rare. As such, everyone is qualified to speak of privilege and bias, but not necessarily equally so on the various types of privilege and bias.

      Report

      • The term ‘heterosexual’ applies to about 97% of the adult populaton. Referring to ‘hetero privilege’ is nonsense (as well as incorporating certain assumptions about human sexuality that are contested).

        Most white people and most blacks have one thing in common: they are wage-earners (or married to wage-earners, or retired wage-earners). People who fit that description are not having any favors done them worth the mention.

        I am fascinated by the idea of ‘male privilege’ in contemporary society. Where do I acquire some?

        Report

        • 97? Wrong.

          If you don’t think that it is better to be certain “things” than other “things” in our society, again, you are either in severe denial or are delusional. My hunch is you think all of the privileges you have enjoyed throughout your life you believe are earned. And attempts at undoing privilege are really people trying to take from you what you’ve earned. What a sad, sad existence.

          Report

            • You know, I lived in a poor neighborhood for years, and I never really worried about being beaten up, robbed, or shot. It happened, sure, but not that often to grown men. I don’t recall seeing many women walking alone at night there, though.

              Report

              • When I first moved to NYC, I used to wonder why people took cabs so often. The subway system was cheap, covered a good deal of the city, ran 24 hours, and was pretty reliable, as far as mass transit systems go. I would always scoff at my friends who’d say, “It’s late, I’ll just take a cab home.” “What?” I’d reply. “Just take the subway. The wait is only slightly longer at this hour and it still stops where you need it to.” Eventually, a female friend called me out for exposing my privilege, and quite simply I might add. She basically said, “Yea, it’s fine for a guy. It’s different for a woman.”

                Now, just how different is it for a woman compared to a man? I won’t even begin to guess. But it’s different enough. And, most importantly, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that it was different. I never have to worry about getting raped. That is quite a privilege, indeed.

                Report

                • I’d be interested to know whether a female who was a six-foot-four bodybuilder who also knew Krav Maga and carried a pistol would still feel like she couldn’t take the subway.

                  And no, I’m not saying that A: all men are like that or B: that all women ought to be like that. What I’m saying is that people who are physically weak are often constrained in the levels of danger they can experience. White dudes get mugged too. And maybe they don’t expect it to happen, but there’s no Unconcious Male Privilege Field that stops it happening.

                  Are people horrible to women in ways that they wouldn’t be horrible to men? Yes. But do you really want to say “some (category) are horrible, therefore all (category) are horrible”?

                  Report

                  • … when was the last time you held a door for a man? When was the last time you expected a woman to pay for your date?

                    There are many examples of priviledge — sometimes one is able to dodge priviledge.

                    You do NOT say that most black people are able to walk around WASPville without getting hassled, simply because one black person looks “white enough to pass.”

                    Have I made my bloody point?

                    Report

                    • Yea, but men generally do it for other men out of courtesy. While many (I won’t venture to guess what percentage) men do it for women out of “chivalry”, which inherently alters the relationship.

                      Report

                    • As I said, not to detract from her main point. I just consider it a poor example when you have to ascribe two different motivations (here it’s chivalry, there it’s courtesy) for precisely the same behavior. I am not immune from acts of chivalry, but door-opening tends to be more courtesy all the way around, for me at least.

                      Report

                    • “Have I made my bloody point?”

                      No, because you’re using two specific examples that are being challenged on their merits, and a third example that’s an unverifiable appeal to stereotype (“all white people will always harass a black person”)

                      Try again.

                      Report

                    • DD,
                      that last is a strawman.
                      No, it’s more that the lawman who we all hire will harass the black person and make them unwelcome.
                      I base this on the relative paucity of black people in “waspy” areas of my own city, even when it would be much much more convenient for them to enter these “zones”.

                      “black man punched me in Bloomfield” was the headline, wasn’t it? Knew she was lying, because there aren’t many black folks in Bloomfield. Schmelled fishy.

                      Report

                    • It’s a quality vs. quantity change, as well.

                      The existence of rape, as a primarily power-focused crime which men generally inflict upon women, changes the perception of risk.

                      I know men who have never, not once, even considered the possibility that they might be raped by anyone.

                      I know no woman, regardless of socioeconomic background, who has never, not once, even considered the possibility that she might be raped by someone.

                      The actual prevalence of rape, as a crime, is in some ways besides that point. The actual *risk* of being a victim of that crime is in some ways besides that point.

                      Report

                    • Rape is a threat that is almost entirely entirely unique to women and is almost entirely offered by men. It also carries a psychological harm (for victims male or female) that often far outweighs the physical harm, in a way that the psychological harm from a mugging or a beating generally doesn’t. Personally, I doubt that there is anything the average male in American society has to fear that is even close.

                      Is that the male gender’s fault? No (except insofar as most rapists are male and we could probably all do more to prevent rapes, but that really isn’t the point). But that doesn’t make the situation any less real.

                      All too often, people are resistant to having their privilege acknowledged because of the assumption that they are somehow guilty for having it or responsible for those who do not. Which is not the point. The point of acknowledging privilege is to realize that who we are directly impacts how the world interacts with us and how we interact with the world. I don’t feel guilty about feeling safe to ride the subway at night. I don’t force myself to pay for cabs as a way of absconding my privilege and feeling the financial strain that women do for not having that privilege. But I do know that it was pretty stupid of me to suggest that young women ought to ride the subway alone at night because I felt safe enough to do so.

                      Report

                    • I would add a couple of caveats/nitpicks to this.

                      Ask a man what he would most fear about prison, you are almost certain to hear the R-word.

                      And, we should specify that we are talking about the United States here. The world and NGO’s appear to be purposefully turning a blind eye to male sexual abuse (by other men) in some corners of the world.

                      But in the United States, among free adults, you are dead-on correct.

                      Report

                    • The above comment was to Patrick, this one is to BSK:

                      The problem I have with wrapping this up in privilege-speak is that it overlooks or downplays that there is a more fundamental human truth here: People disregard threats that they do not face. Women can be extremely tin-eared when it comes to false accusations of rape (wrt to things like the recent OCR dictate), cuckoldry, child support requirements even when the kid is demonstrably not yours, and so on.

                      This isn’t an attempt to equivocate. Even if we agree that the areas where the culture and system favor males far exceed the areas where they favor females, it can still be the case that it’s not just from the perch of privilege that people disregard fear of threats that they (or people like them) are ever likely to face.

                      Report

                    • > Ask a man what he would most
                      > fear about prison, you are
                      > almost certain to hear the R
                      > -word.

                      Oh, sure. I’m talking about “bad things that might happen to you while you’re walkin’ down the street” fears.

                      Report

                    • Trumwill-

                      I guess it is a bit chicken/egg. Do men not have to fear rape because they are privileged? Or are they privileged because they don’t have to fear rape? My argument is the latter. I think you are responding thinking that I meant the former, which I did not.

                      Yes, you are right, that we all enjoy certain privileges and endure certain oppression. On balance, being male generally leads to far more privilege than oppression. One of those privileges is a general freedom from the fear or threat of rape.

                      Report

                    • trumwill,
                      you make your point, and eloquently too.
                      I can say “what’s wrong with being a pervert” without implying that I’m a stalker/pedo/etc. Because I’m a girl, and girls are not agressors for sexual things.

                      Report

  6. Actually, women don’t get to decide who can speak about sexism. I understand the idea that those who experience certain forms of abuse have a unique understanding from personal experience, but it also means they’re emotionally involved in the issue in ways that can cloud reason and objectivity — sexism can be seen where it doesn’t exist, for example, because the trauma has created hypervigilance. It would be nice for special interests if they could get all contrary ciritques of their positions dismissed due to lack of direct experience, but in reality reason allows everyone to study certain issues and offer insight.

    Report

    • Mike-

      But the same thing, in the inverse, can be said of those who are not exposed to the abuse. They may have no emotional investment, leading to quick dismissals of legitimate abuses. See: all the folks who respond to every accusation of racism as someone “playing the race card”. I do think there is a place for all in conversations regarding sexism or racism or homophobia or anti-semitism, etc. However, I also think that there are aspects of those conversations that ought to remain entirely or largely exclusive to those who are the victims or potential victims of these abuses. For example, Tim Wise offered a great quote on how it is not for white people to decide whether black people use the N-word or not; that is a conversation that ought to happen within that community. White people can certainly determine the appropriateness of their own usage.

      Report

      • Yes, anyone can get speak to an issue with skewed insight, but no one is arbiter of who gets to speak. I’m not arguing who’s best qualified to speak to an issue, only that no one will stop others from speaking, or others from listening and being influenced. We’ll all decide individually which ideas make the most sense to us.

        Report

        • Yes, but it is also within the bounds of productive discourse to try to sway people towards certain kinds of testimony or evidence. It is not an intolerable act of silencing to put forward the claim that we should listen to scientists over lay people when discussing quantum physics. And I do think that members of minorities are in a better position to comment on these topics than those from the majority.

          I don’t doubt that many members of minorities react emotionally to things specifically affecting their communities, but this does not destroy their epistemic high ground, for multiple reasons. Firstly, such a critique downplays the way emotional responses can compromise the thinking of the privileged, and paints them as the objective determiners of truth. In examining my own responses to critiques of my privilege and the vitriol that tends to come from both sides in a debate like this, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that both sides are emotionally invested, and on the grounds of your own argument, compromised. The privileged really are emotionally invested in downplaying the importance of their privilege. I’d rather live in a world where my professional accomplishments were solely attributable to my own talent and drive, not the ways in which the system is designed to promote people like me at the expense of those not like me, and there’s definitely an emotional impetus to maintain that fiction.

          Secondly, your critique glosses over the ways in which emotional response can actually be helpful in determining truth. I think that this is particularly true in matters of social justice. Emotional responses are typically how we determine what order of magnitude an injustice is on, and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that. The problem is that otherwise natural feelings of empathy can be tainted by the action of privilege. It’s just a fact that many who do not see the effects of, say, gang violence on a daily basis can easily emotionally distance themselves from that fact because it’s happening to people who aren’t like them. A full emotional understanding of how this injustice affects real people isn’t a cognitive defect, it helps us accurrately assess just how important such an issue is.

          And there’s the obvious epistemic advantage: hands-on experience. While it can often be tainted by confirmation bias and the standard pitfalls of reasoning from anecdotal evidence, ceteris parabus the person who is being done an injustice will likely know more about it than the person who in unaffiliated with the situation. Go to the source.

          So, if we are a member of a privileged group participating in a discussion on oppression, what does this mean for us? I don’t think it means that we have nothing productive to contribute to the conversation. But it does mean that we need to have the intellectual humility to defer to the experts, particularly on the bare facts of the matter. You might find it inconceivable that the respectful and helpful police officers that you’ve lived around all your life behave brutally toward your black friends. But you have to realize that you’re not really in position to know how the police treat people of color, if you’re not a person of color yourself. It’s not simply related to elements of fact, though, but on understanding why certain reactions that may seem odd can be valid. Emotional responses of women feeling threatened by certain actions may look completely irrational to you, but you should acknowledge that you were not born into a world in which society saddled a good deal of responsibility to deter your own sexual assault.

          This is not to say that assertion of epistemic high ground is valid in all cases. It really is possible to shut someone out who has something constructive to add to a discussion, and I think the above feminist blogger is guilty of this.

          On a related note, I’d like to unpack your assertion that many people read racism or sexism into things where it does not exist. Often implicit in this framing of the issue is a definition of racism and the like as a consciously held, malicious attitude toward people of different groups. I’m not particularly interested in haggling over the definition of a word, so let’s run with it. If we do construe racism as narrowly as this, I submit that there are many important issues relating to racial justice that are not necessarily about racism. I’m reminded of the recent dust-up surrounding Richard Dawkins, in which he took to task a feminist blogger for complaining about someone asking her out on an elevator. Now, I’m close to certain that the person who asked the girl out wasn’t consciously and maliciously attempting to make her feel uncomfortable, or motivated by misogyny. That seems to be what most people read into the feminist critique, though as far as I could tell it wasn’t really there. We could focus on the inner mental state of the person who asked the girl out, but I don’t think that’s particularly productive. Rather, what I took away from that was, “Damn, I hadn’t even considered ease of escape when asking someone out. Even if it’s a small minority of hyper vigilant people who would feel threatened by such an action, I’d hate to make anyone feel the slightest bit unsafe when I’m asking them out, so I’ll pay attention to that kind of thing in the future.” In essence, social justice critiques aren’t (or shouldn’t be) particularly concered about your virtue as a non-racist. What they can do is help you understand where your less privileged friends and family are coming from and how you can interact with them without perpetuating injustice.

          A similar principle applies to the feminist critique of GRRM. I really don’t care if he holds conscious malice towards women, but examining his books might give us insight into subconscious biases or point out better ways to write inclusive fiction. (not that the initial feminist blogger did much of the kind)

          Report

          • And I do think that members of minorities are in a better position to comment on these topics than those from the majority.

            And you would be wrong. They occupy a different vantage point in a system of social relations, but their is no reason to believe that one half of the binary has a clearer view than the other half.

            The use of the term ‘privilege’ to describe the situation of half the population or 70% of the population is in error.

            Report

              • James vonderHaar fancies one’s membership in a liberal mascot group improves one’s understanding of social relations. He produces a great deal of verbiage, but does not provide much of an explanation for this view. A black man does not have any more hours in the day to perceive or process what he sees around him than I do. He perceives and processes with the same sort of equipment I do. He knows his part of the world better than I do, but his part of the world is just that – his and not someone else’s. It is an ideological assumption that knowing that gives him an idea of a ‘truer’ reality than anyone else’s.

                Now, you can see outside your own environment with special tools. I do not know that the use of them is any more prevalent among blacks or women-in-general than it is any where else (and, of course, something is lost in translation).

                Report

                • You observe different things depending on what social position you occupy. Those whose social position makes them more likely to experience a certain thing are better able to speak about that thing. The rational action would be to defer to those who have experienced it first-hand, but the knee-jerk response is too often to deny that injustices are happening when your own experience does not reflect them.

                  My argument isn’t anything more than contending that you’re an expert in your own experience, and you shouldn’t claim to be a greater expert in someone else’s experience than they are.

                  Report

                    • … lot of racism/sexism discussion boils down to “don’t be an ass” and “realize that you can push someone’s buttons without realizing it” and, most importantly, “if you weren’t doing that on purpose, man up and apologize for unintentional consequences.”

                      I believe that the “I know racism as well as you do” meme might undermine the above.

                      Report

                    • “… lot of racism/sexism discussion boils down to “don’t be an ass”…”

                      Really? More often it’s:

                      “Don’t be an ass!”
                      “I wasn’t!”
                      “Yeah you were, and what’s even worse is that you didn’t realize it!”
                      “I wasn’t trying to be.”
                      “That just makes it even more worse!”

                      Report

                    • DD,
                      you’ll find if you apologize for having caused unintended offense, you’ll get a better reception.
                      It’s one thing to say “I’m not a racist!” — but that often misses the point. Often, most people are saying “don’t say that, it’s racist” — with the fucking implication that if YOU were a racist, they damn well wouldn’t waste their time bitching at you.

                      Don’t be an ass MEANS apologizing, even if you didn’t mean to hurt someone. Because hurting someone is a Bad Thing, and deserving of an apology in of itself.

                      After that, you can ask, delicately, “are you more sensitive to this than most people? am I likely to get in trouble for doing this in the future, with people who aren’t you?”

                      Report

          • I think I’ve made my point, and I’ll leave it there. Nothing you’ve said really refutes what I said, it only rehashes that someone with experience can be more knowledgable about a subject related to the experiences, but not necessarily so, if the individual has developed a warped view from the experiences out of sync with reality — and a person with no personal experience of, say racism, but knowledge of the issue at hand can have more insight, but not necessarily so — it depends on the individual and the individual’s knowledge and understanding. Understanding physics is learned, not inborn, or acquired from living around a group of physicists, so it’s still a matter of what knowledge and understanding any individual possesses.

            Report

    • … while this is true, I have often come across a “this is racist” post which has broadened my experience of what someone else rightly perceives as racist, and hence hurtful.

      Report

  7. I concur with Katherine and Murali.

    In this corner of the blogosphere, it’s not considered bad form to come out swinging. You make your strongest case, and meet in the middle if you can. That’s not the way to pitch in at Tiger Beatdown. If you look back over your post, you’ve got stuff like:

    “The fact that women in the books make things worse, and face lots of struggles, Sady attributes to sexism. This is a remarkably shallow reading, and probably more a reflection of Sady’s general antipathy toward fantasy literature than anything reflected in the text.”

    Or:

    “You see, Sady Doyle wants fantasy to be actually sexist, to present a world in which women are magically free from all the social constraints and domestic violence that women, even in our oh-so-enlightened times, really do face.”

    This surely comes across as you lecturing the feminists on what sexism really is (“So I’ve thought about this for a few minutes, and here’s why you’re wrong about everything…”), and I can guarantee it’s not going to get you anywhere on that blog.

    These books contain some really disturbing stuff, and I think you’re playing that down here. If Martin doesn’t win you over somewhere in the early part of A Game of Thrones, the rest of the series is going to be quite a slog. It’s really important in these discussions to distinguish between “if you’re disturbed, you’re reading it wrong” and “this stuff is disturbing, though I think there’s a point to it.”

    The way I read these books, there are two reasons Martin writes creepy scenes. First, he’s trying to undermine (or “critique”) the conservative impulse to revisit feudal societies. He’s constructing an outsized version of medieval Europe with a deromanticized and Machiavellian patriarchal feudalism, and trying to show why it’s a bad system. This is, of course, nothing new. And I think this explains why he’s set up the plot and the characters in the way he has. But I don’t think it explains why he writes specific chapters the way he does: why the incest? Why the sexual abuse? Why the cannibalism? And why in such detail? Martin, as a storyteller, likes to try to get away with really dark stuff. So he tries, for example, to give his readers an inside view of the rape-and-pillage culture of the Iron Isles. Even if the point is to show that a culture based on rape and slaughter is not the best society to live in, I find these chapters to be incredibly unpleasant!

    So, for those of us who like the books, I think it’s good to talk about what Martin is really aiming at. But the reasons Sady lists for not liking the books? Perfectly fine reasons, as far as I can see. There’s more that I could quibble with Sady about, but I’d start by agreeing with her about the creepiness. Because it’s there.

    Report

    • Yeah, as far as the books themselves go, I have a lot of sympathy for this point of view. When I posted about Dance with Dragons on my own blog, one of my friends expressed her frustration that everyone she knows is so into these books (heh, I should point *her* at Sady’s post), and here’s what I said about the creepy parts then:

      To me, contemplating how people react in miserable extremis (with suprising strength, or with self-betrayal, by becoming better or becoming worse) is of personal value even when it’s been turned into melodrama – some small piece of my enjoyment is that it feels like an easier or safer way to soothe some of my own unhappinesses, because it is so obviously fictional and part of the world-building that I can get some distance. I think Martin’s always pretty clear that reprehensible behaviors are reprehensible, regardless of the context he provides for them, and I like that none of his protagonists exist in a static moral position; they’re all fiendishly complicated, bad and good muddled up, and experience moral change in different directions as the series goes along.

      Now, on reflection, do I find it sort of obnoxious, and feel vaguely complicit, that this sort of book makes a bajillion dollars and other sorts of books, which I love as well or better, but which don’t rely on violent extremism as part of their toolbox, will never make their authors a living? Well, yeah, sometimes. But I try to write these reviews as honestly and off-the-cuff as possible, even when it shows up my internal adolescent.

      ****

      So. I find this discussion interesting and shades-of-grey, but I can definitely see why other people wouldn’t.

      Report

    • William,

      She starts her post with a slam against anyone who likes fantasy or Martin’s work. She sets her own stage for how others might respond…and the quotes of mine you list are mild by comparison.

      Second, I think I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking about this stuff, and have given the subject as it applies to fantasy more respect than she gave the fantasy genre and its readers.

      Third, yes we can talk about whether parts of these books are too violent and disturbing. I would agree on some points. But take the treatment of torture in Dance. It could ne read as gratuitous or sadistic or it could be seen as an attempt by Martin to really drive home how awful torture is, how it denies its victims even their identity. I would not read it as pro torture.

      I honestly can’t remember many scenes of rape actually described let alone on detail. And I would respect Sady’s list more of I believed she have the books anything like a sincere reading.

      Report

      • OK, as far as I can remember, Martin never gives a present-tense narrative account of a rape, except for the part with Asha and Qarl, which I hope we can agree is problematic without getting into an argument over how to label it. But it comes up in flashbacks — Cersei’s memories of marital rapes — or as unseen violence against non-POV characters — Pretty Pia, Lollys, and several others. And then there’s any victory involving the Ironmen or the Dothraki. There’s a political-philosophy point to the stuff about the Brave Companions and Clegane’s men, which is that Tywin’s total-war tactics bring peace, but at a huge price. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing to me.

        I think you’re right on the anti-torture intent and effect of certain chapters in A Dance with Dragons. But descriptions of memories of the flayings really gave me the jibblies. Sleep deprivation or something way less intense would have done the job for me in terms of conveying the horror of torture, I’m pretty sure. I got past it, sure. But if I wasn’t enjoying the books and had somehow slogged to that point, I think you can see how I might add the stuff about flaying fingers to my list of problems I have with the book.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if there’s some plausible liberal-humanist explanation of every single creepy incident in the books, (a) people who find these incidents off-putting would not necessarily find them any less off-putting if they understood the purpose behind them, and (b) the very fact that we are seriously trying to parse out the dynamics of consent and abuse in some of these fictional situations (Asha and Qarl, Tywin and Tyrion and Tysha) might be off-putting in itself. Not everyone will agree or assume that these books are worth reading.

        As for Sady, I think that once you get off on the wrong foot, there’s really nothing you can do to fix it. Your attempts at apologizing or explaining will founder on the rocks of her comment-moderating power. I’ve seen it happen before. It’s not fair, but it’s not worth worrying about. I think we’ve gotten a fine discussion going here, and many of the points you’ve made have gotten through in the comments over there.

        Report

    • Agree very much with William Brafford, above.

      I like the books, and moreover like Sady I think they are creepy, at least at times. But I think that creepiness is mostly used effectively and in a manner that highlights an interesting-if-flawed moral vision.

      To infer, on the other hand, that a writer who writes lots of creepy scenes is necessarily a misogynist pervert strikes me as a bit of a leap. I think Sady’s case is pretty weak in that respect, and her reading shallowly does overlook a lot of the interesting feminist aspects of the story.

      Martin’s books may have some disturbing and/or titillating aspects, but they’re a long way from say, the Saw movies in those regards. And I think he uses a lot of the more disturbing material in a way that draws pretty clear moral lines, much like Hitchcock did.

      I should add a bit of context: Martin comes from a school of sci-fi writing that relies pretty heavily on extreme violence and graphic sex, and compared to a lot of his contemporaries he’s actually pretty moderate in this regard. See some of the early Wild Cards books for some direct comparisons. Compared to Melissa Snodgrass or Lewis Shiner, he’s practically a puritan when it comes to sex scenes, rape and other forms of violence.

      Report

      • He’s not doing a Bloodflower (the work that had Charlie Sheen calling the MPAA about it. they called the fbi, who called the japanese police, who said “we’re already investigating that.” And this was before he went crazy).

        That said, people should feel perfectly fucking free to say, “this is way too dark for me” or “I feel creeped out. stopped reading” or even TLDR.

        Report

  8. That’s not the way to pitch in at Tiger Beatdown.

    The principals at “Tiger Beatdown” are an opinionated lot and one is a contributor to Bitch magazine. If they fancy they are entitled to statements of affirmation only, they should not be taken seriously.

    Report

      • There is policy and there is practice and there are the apologias offered for their practice. You can concur with apologias or you can say they misrepresent the policy and or practice. You cannot (or should not) concur with apologias and then deny their plain implications.

        Report

    • I think you are right here, William, that how E.D. came into the place was not the kind of thing that is welcomed there. But I think you are wrong to suggest that some other approach would have “gotten [him] anywhere.” I think the tone does pretty clearly suggest that if you’re not there to agree and perhaps (as Maribou explained) build upon what is said, you might as well move on, because it’s not going to be a constructive engagement one way or another. So to suggest that there is any possibility that anyone with a contrasting view is ever going to “get anywhere” there I think gives the place too much credit (though I haven’t read much of the blog). I don’t such interlocutors ever will get anywhere there, and that’s okay; the answer is nonengagement. If you have a link to a thread that would disabuse me of that impression of the place, I’d be interested in checking it out.

      If what you’re after is a blog where you can find daily 100-proof feminism with which to engage, where you can be pretty sure you’ll walk away with a smarting ass from getting it whooped for having expressed opinions that are not agreed with, but having pissed no one off too badly for simply showing up and making yourself heard, I *strongly* recommend Amanda Marcotte’s blog, pandagon.com.

      Report

  9. One of the issues with Sady’s blog, is that it’s Sady’s blog – she does what she wants. There is no comments policy although she’ll regularly explain why she banned/didn’t post a comment. It’s her right to do whatever she wants and it’s mine to not agree and not participate.
    I read feminist blogs but almost never comment – I really don’t think my input is desired or would be appreciated. Also one of the core points of a feminist blog is that guys should shut the fuck up and listen once in a while – it’s a fair point. E.D., I imagine what you submitted was slotted into the general category of “mansplaining” and then sent to the memory hole. If she skimmed this website she probably didn’t bother to read your submission.

    Report

    • Also one of the core points of a feminist blog is that guys should shut the fuck up and listen once in a while – it’s a fair point.

      That is not a fair point to anyone with a normal domestic life.

      Report

            • “Ian M.” made reference to conversation between men and women, which requires … men and women.

              Since you need it spelled out to you in the most explicit language, here it is:

              “Ian M.” fancies it a ‘fair point’ that “Also one of the core points of a feminist blog is that guys should shut the fuck up and listen once in a while”. There is a certain amount of variation from one person’s home to another and from one social circle to another and from one workplace to another. However, as a general rule, what “Ian M.” is referring to has nothing to do with common and garden human relations. It is a bit of self-validation favored by a certain sort of obnoxious female. Ordinary people with ordinary domestic lives know bloody well that American women are not a taciturn lot being shouted down by motormouth males, because that is not the life they live. If it pleases “Ian M” or “Sady Doyle” to traffic in social fictions of this nature, that is their problem.

              Report

    • I find “mansplaining” wonderfully self-referential irony.

      Not that it doesn’t happen, mind you (or that it doesn’t happen often). But, as a tool, it can turn quite readily in one’s hand.

      Report

    • “E.D., I imagine what you submitted was slotted into the general category of “mansplaining” and then sent to the memory hole.”

      Just like when people post stuff that’s slotted into the general category of “blacksplaining” and then sent to the memory hole.

      Report

      • yup. and when you tell someone who’s offended, “but I wasn’t being offensive” — you’re being a dick. because you’re invalidating their emotions.

        Kinda like if I called you a poor-ass cracker, and you got offended, and I said “but I was just tellin’ the truth” — them’s FIGHTING words, what I just said there (“the truth bit”). it’s not “let’s cool off and talk.”

        People have some right to blow off people looking for a fight.

        Report

    • Look, Sady starts off by basically talking a bunch of crap about fantasy and anyone who reads fantasy and then delves into a really enormously poor reading of the books. Fine, it’s her blog. Fine feminist bloggers just want men to shut up and nod along. But then why take such a snotty arrogant approach to the genre and its fans?

      Whatever. It’s her blog and this is my blog and apparently that’s as far into the analysis of how men and women should conduct discourse around sexism as we’re willing to go.

      Report

      • Sady couldn’t care less about fantasy, and the tone is to amuse her followers who just love it and to elicit outraged push back that she can avoid engaging and then mock, also to the delight of her followers.

        Report

          • No, I wouldn’t think it’s that.

            I think it has more to do with creating a certain type of community that is exceptionally safe for allies and exceptionally hostile for enemies. There are, of course, false positive problems when it comes to extended periods of indeterminacy… but, at the end of the day, the type of community is the goal.

            This type happens to get a great deal of traffic… but I’d say that speaks more to the niche she fills than any cynical attempt to get clicks.

            Report

                • Drudge has a penchant for linking to sensational albeit unimportant stories, such as twelve-year-olds’s green tea stands getting shut down. Bachmann recently proclaimed Hurricane Irene the wrath of God or somesuch. I tried to think of a liberal to include to balance out the sensationalism scale of justice, but liberals tend to be too honest to succeed in politics.

                  Report

                • I wasn’t talking about partisanship or anything like that.

                  Those two have some sort of trending in your head that leads you to pick them out as exemplars of something.

                  You might have a post in there, somewhere.

                  I’d say that Mr. Drudge has been doing his thing long enough that if he had any penchant whatsoever to be the sort of cat who looks at his traffic logs, he’d have a mighty fine incentive to be a traffic-fixated sort of dude.

                  Ms. Bachmann, on the other hand, strikes me as a genuine sort of person. Maybe if she makes it far enough along in the primaries we’ll see handlers shaping her a bit, and it might become learned behavior.

                  Report

              • I wouldn’t consider Michelle Bachmann or Drudge to be communities, per se.

                Out of those two, Drudge seems to have more potential to create one (or, maybe, he has one that I’ve never heard of)… but I think we’re in very different categories here.

                To answer what I think you might be asking:

                If Michelle Bachmann had a site, do I think that it would be heavily moderated? I think it’d be moderated to an insane degree.

                If Drudge had a community, do I think that it would be moderated? No… I think that the folks who would frequent it would shout down any opposition and it would become quite an organic echo chamber on its own with the occasional flare-up between the paleos and the neocons or between the theocons and the economic hawks.

                That’s all from my gut, though.

                Report

    • I agree that a site owner can run the site anyway they please, but it never stops converstation — like you say, just at that site – and it always diminishes the site owner to ban someone for disagreeing, or for arbitrary reasons — it’s self-defeating if you want to have some kind of influence and reach a wide audience. If, however, you want run a site dedicated to homongeneous thought, then banning all dissenting or different views is a good move.

      Report

      • Another aspect of this issue is the assumption that gender automatically generates validity on the topic of sexism, or being black makes one credible on the issue of racism, or being a Democrat instills greater insight into the plight of the poor, or being gay automatically gives more depth to an individual’s insight into gay marriage issues. The idea of collective saliency or expertise due to a biological, class or political difference ensures that knowledge and understanding will become the most abused victims.

        Report

        • I would say that being black probably leads you to have a greater level of credibility for descriptive anecdotes regarding the effects of institutional racism.

          I would say being female probably leads you to have a greater level of credibility for descriptive anecdotes regarding institutionalized sexism.

          I think anecdotes can be useful sources of knowledge. They’re inherently different from generalized structured data, of course.

          But there’s a reason why case studies can be useful, even if the knowledge gained from them doesn’t necessarily generalize.

          Report

        • Well, intersectionality is important. Gender obviously informs your view of sexism, as ethnicity would racism. In fact, your regional background (say Midwestern) might also inform your views on sexism and racism. All sorts of factors in your personal history are going to creep into your analysis of a topic. So I think the message is that a man approaching a discussion among women about sexism should have an attitude of humility and be ready to listen.

          Report

          • I think that since we know biases can creep in, as we’re studying an issue, or as we’re maturing and learning, educating ourselves, we identify these influences and re-evaluate our value-judgements so that they don’t unconsciously color our opinions. Then we can say we’ve done the hard work to earn a thoughtful and insightful opinion, and, thus, not place much value in being told we have no idea because we’ve never personally experienced the issue in question.

            Report

  10. What explains the appeal of these books and now TV series? There are some psycho-sexual bells being rung for at least some of its fans that’s more than “isn’t George RR Martin brave for exposing man’s inhumanity to woman.”

    There’s a level here that nobody wants to touch, and IMO, for good reason.

    I found Sady Doyle’s takedown of the series masterful. One commenter noted there were 23 actual rapes in the first 4 books, and uncounted others threatened. And then there’s the pedophilia. I dunno what’s going on in Martin’s fetid brain or those of his fans, but all I could think of was

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3uir5_extras-patrick-stewart-ricky-gervai_shortfilms

    Report

    • Tom: first, have you read the books? If not how can you find her piece masterful?

      Second, there is simply no way that there were 24 rapes in all five books combined. Certainly not described in the prose.

      Report

      • EDK, Sady’s takedown of the books was masterful because a) it was fishing hilarious. Plus no one seemed to dispute the b) facts. That’s mastery.

        If the commenter was wrong about the 23 rapes, pls do file a corrected figure.

        Me, I heard enough, even the figure is half that. Then there’s the Stockholm Syndrome pedophilia. I’m a lot more interested in the phenomenon and controversy, and don’t need to wade through 4 or 5 volumes of it to comment on the phenomenon, so let’s not go there. Personally, it’s not the sort of thing it would even occur to me to write or read for pleasure. Not when there’s Shakespeare out there with elegantly drawn female characters, 400 years ago.

        What makes people respond pro- or con- to what is basically a passing cultural fad that I honestly don’t give a shit about in its own right is my area and level of interest.

        There’s the component of exploiting that which we purport to condemn. There’s the fact that some chicks dig it. [How many, I dunno.] Rape fantasies? On the male side, Adolescent sexual empowerment? No sexual component atall except rape as power? What about the sexualization of 12-yr-old girls? There’s a lot of stuff going on here, see the link to Patrick Stewart on “Extras.” There’s a reason people choose to engage things like Game of Thrones. Or are revolted by them. That’s my nexus of interest.

        Hey, me & the missus adore Sons of Anarchy, which you could say is a bawdlerized version of this sort of thing. But once you’re into 12-yr-old girls, I think some sort of line has been crossed.

        Report

        • Tom,

          Sady’s post got me thinking about on what grounds I’d be comfortable defending Martin’s writing. Mostly it’s the density and complexity of the narrative, and the way that clues to various mysteries are planted thousands of pages before the reveals. (Sady cracked me up with the sound effects in the part about the “plotty, cliffhangery aspects.”) Which makes me think that if I want more that sort of thing I should finally get around to War and Peace.

          -wrb

          Report

          • Old joke, WRB: “I wish I had the time to write like Tolstoy.”

            BTW, are we comparing George RR Martin and Leo Tolstoy? Are the Perils of Sansa where Nabokov dared not go with Lolita? Should I tackle Martin instead of Proust as I enter my dotage? After investing in Middle-earth, Foundation, Dune and Majipoor, I only have so many of these things left in me.

            Report

            • The one I hear recommended a lot but haven’t read is Erikson’s Book of the Fallen. It has the advantage of being complete (all ten volumes of it, which is one of the disadvantages.)

              Report

              • Highly highly recommend the Malazan books. And I am a feministy feministing feminist of the feministiest variety, if that makes any difference.

                The Malazan books are not *perfect* from a feminist point of view (then, which books are?); but Erikson gets far more right than he gets wrong, in my opinion.

                And when explicitly gendered violence is presented – the “hobbling” in book 8/9 which is just the most horrific thing *ever* – it is unequivocally presented as an abomination. Although it is perhaps slightly troubling that it one of the “primitive” tribes which practices hobbling – but Erikson/Esslemont’s world is hugely diverse, racially and culturally speaking, as informed by Erikson’s background in anthropology and archaeology, so it’s much less of an issue than is the question of the ‘primitivism’ of the Dothraki/peoples of the East in ASoIaF.

                The Malazan books themselves more than repay the effort needed to read them; I have sobbed my eyes out more times than I can count, and laughed out loud at other points. The characters are brilliant, the story is intense and epic, the battle scenes are bloody fantastic, the philosophising is (mostly) interesting, and the books generally kick so. much. ass if you’re prepared to invest a bit of time in reading them. The emotional payoffs you get in return are absurdly enjoyable.

                All this reminds me that I haven’t read The Crippled God and I really ought to do something about that.

                Report

    • Given the context, 23 rapes over 3,500 pages is actually not that bad. I think that a lot of what Sady is complaining about is somewhat intrinsic into the genre. It doesn’t mean I don’t cringe a little with at least some of it, and that I don’t understand why women would be remarkably uninterested in reading it, but I think when you’re writing about times and places where such attitudes and inequalities were persistent, leaving it out may come across as overly sanitized.

      Report

        • I haven’t read the books, so please excuse me if my comment makes no sense but…

          …given that it is fantasy literature, why is the author expected to be bound by the attitudes and inequalities of the place/time depicted? I mean, they have dragons and shit. Why not better attitudes about rape?

          Report

          • Because I see this in the realm of magical realism, which attempts to cling to realism as closely as possible and the “magical” part has to have some fidelity to reality, but enough magic to enhance the reality. Political correctness inserted into a serious work is not very true to art.

            Report

          • Lots of fantasy is set in a sanitized medieval setting. One of Martin’s goals, I think, was to portray medieval times far more realistically.

            Report

            • I’m far from an expert on fantasy, so I’m more than happy to get my comeuppance here. But, it just seems strange that rape and sexual assault and considered necessary to maintain the reality of the time period but dragons are fair game as fantasy.

              If the rape serves a purpose, such as to offer commentary on the role and treatment of women, I understand its conclusion. But if it is solely used as a realistic anchor, I’m sure there are far better and less offensive things that could have been chosen to do that. Like making people less than insanely beautiful.

              Report

              • I think you’ve also been misled about the prevalence of rape. The only ones that takes place “onstage”, that I can recall, are during the sacking of a city, and that’s there so one of the main female characters can put a stop to them and forbid the practice thereafter. There’s far more in the way of violent death and mutilation.

                Report

          • To me, the context of the story is such that the attitudes towards rape would likely occur on Westeros for the same reasons that they did in realtimes: In a world of omnipresent physical threat, unabated masculinity has supreme value. Femininity is likely to be considered weakness. The addition of supernatural bogeymen makes this even more the case. More threats, more need for physical strength.

            It’s not hard to imagine in a more level-headed society that there would be a better role for women as maesters and so on. But it’s a stretch that they would be anything but the exception in a society that so values masculine traits. And it’s worth pointing out, Martin does go there in some respects. One of King Stannis’s chief advisors is a woman.

            He also explores the counterproductivity with Brienne, a hypermasculine woman with designs on being a knight. Despite the fact that she has proven herself in as many ways as she could, most still views her with disdain as she is a woman and women are weak at (valued) men’s things. This is portrayed as the social weakness that it is.

            Report

          • I didn’t expect this quote/argument to get off the ground, but it seems to be getting plenty of air beneath its wings.

            First, that’s a fine avenue to trod, if you want to write a certain kind of story. I’m no Trekkie, but Star Trek has warp engines and better attitudes about rape; and you can argue the two are even related statements about societal progress. But I do not understand why tweaking physics necessitates tweaking human nature as well.

            Second, if (a big if, given this discussion is happening at all) for the benefit of the doubt, Martin is attempting/achieving any valid criticism of society in his books, then maybe it is even more valuable that the criticism is taking place in a genre read by geeky guys (like myself). Some people may only read books with dragons. It would be a shame if those books categorically avoided human ugliness.

            Report

            • I think there is a distinction that needs to be made…

              Is Martin, or other fantasy writers, required to avoid the ugliness of humanity because they have the creative license to do so? No.

              However, are they required to include it because it serves as a realistic anchor? Also, no.

              There are many ways that fantasy novels can ground themselves in the reality of human nature. Martin’s method is one of them. If he is taking that track as an attempt to offer a criticism or commentary on certain aspects of human nature, we can debate the merits of such methodology. If he is doing it to be gratuitous, while certainly within his write as an artist, it’s pretty disgusting.

              I think we also have to examine the common gap that exists between the artist’s intent and the viewers’/readers’ response. While not intending to, if an artist can reasonably assume that his works will be used to glorify, deem permissible, or otherwise shed favorable light upon such an ugly aspect of human nature as rape, I think they need to take that into consideration. I don’t think it makes them responsible for how those folks respond to it, but I also don’t think they can just throw their hands up and say, “Well, I didn’t mean for them to think all that rape was cool. I just filled page upon page with it because I wanted to comment on it.”

              Report

  11. I actually lean at least slightly more towards Sady’s interpretation of the the books than EDK’s. And I think Maribou makes a great point about Yes/And vs No/But (and I believe both can be valuable bases for discussion).

    Nonetheless, I did find Sady’s attitude extremely off-putting. And I think that in an Yes/And environment putting up a link to a separate website with dissent is the perfect middle ground. It takes the conversation that a lot of the people there aren’t interested in and takes it elsewhere.

    On Hit Coffee, I have a few subjects that are, for various reasons, considered “out of bounds.” I simply don’t want them discussed on my site. But if they want to discuss it on their own blogs, and provide a link, I think that’s more than fair.

    Report

  12. Somewhat related- I’ve got a friendly acquaintance who writes for a number of movie magazines. She got some really heated responses to her negative review in Fangoria of the remake of I Spit on Your Grave, a dreadful movie from the 70s about a woman getting revenge for a gang rape. Some people went really nuts about her critique of the remake; she even got a number of death threats. The discussion, though, raised a lot of the same questions about how rape should be depicted in art. For the record, both films are repellent trash and I would recommend against watching them. But the judgment comes down to whether you think the films are exposing the truth of a horrible crime or providing cheap thrills, or both.
    http://www.fangoria.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3662:i-spit-on-your-movie&catid=36:demo-articles&Itemid=56

    Report

    • A lot of this discussion reminds me of the scene/passage in Clockwork Orange (book and movie) in which Alex is reading the bible in prison. The chaplain believes he is a good boy, learning about God sacrificing his only son for humanity, when in reality Alex is getting a raging hard-on (in the book literally as I recall, but it has been awhile) reading about the torture of Jesus and imagining himself wielding the whip. It’s ironic, because the book and movie were both accused of wallowing in misogyny and sexual (and other kinds) violence when the intent was the opposite.

      I wonder what Sady would make of the same type of passages written by a woman. Sarah Douglass uses some of these same themes in her books. Her stories in the world of Tencidor are brutal with rape, human sacrifice, torture, and a particularly nasty scene in The Serpent Bride where two men have their hands tied behind their backs and they chew each other to the death. Not to mention an entire race of winged humans whose ruling family is cursed to only mate with their own family. I stopped reading the most recent series because I found the world so creepy I started rooting for the embodiment of absolute evil to pull the whole world into Nothing.

      Martin is the superior writer IMHO, but Douglass has her moments. They explore similar themes and have an arguably comparable creepiness factor. (Though I think Douglass is FAR creepier if there can be scale for such things) I’d be interested if a woman author would encourage a different perception in a reader who found sexism in Martin. Alas, from what little I have read her and at her blog, I doubt Sady will give much more fantasy books a go.

      Report

  13. Pingback: An Inch of Imagination « Three Pound Brain

  14. It might have been said already, but; She’s saying it’s silly for men to talk about sexism, your saying it’s silly for them not to be able to talk about it.

    Everyone always thinks their silly trumps the other persons silly. But all you get is a mexican standoff.

    So, let’s listen to her for a moment “And tends to think women are in a better position to explain What Is Sexist than men are.”

    Okay, she does, and…is there any interest she expresses in rethinking that, shown there?

    I think you’d be better off, not going in with “it’s silly that…” and instead start asking how interested she is in reconsidering her position to some degree.

    The double edge to that blade is that you also reconsider your own position to some degree.

    It’s always tempting to disarm the other person while retaining steel in ones own hand.

    Report

  15. If men can’t discuss sexism then can we please get rid of all the female sports reporters that talk about men’s sports?

    Report

  16. I think Martin is a bit fixated on rape. In fact, I read the first Dunc and Egg short story, and I thought there was too much about “rapers.”

    The notion that his books are some kind of rape porno is absurd. There are next to no explicit rape scenes.

    Maybe Martin read, or read about, Brownmiller.

    Anyway, Martin’s genre is called gritty medieval realism.

    It is (or seems to be) epic fantasy. There seems to be some kind of supernatural evil threat to mankind (the Others,) and the heros have some magic, and magic creatures going for them.

    But many of the ugly aspects of the medeival world gets covered. Arranged marriages, often with one or both of the two being very young, is part of that world. Martin explores the good, the bad and the ugly.

    So rape? Well, I think that invading armies did loot, rape, and pillage in most of history.

    And it is pretty clear that this is the norm in Martin’s world. But we don’t see alot of it.

    There just seems to be a lot of talk about it.

    Why I like the books is that the government officials of Westeros spend all of their time in pointless political maneuvering, while the threat to humanity that they should be confronting grows unchecked.

    And then, they go from bad to worse–horribly destructive civil war–when they shoud be uniting against a common threat. The government of Westerosi appears to be doing most of the Others’ work for them.

    Of course, they don’t know about the threat. We, the reader, knows a little about it, and get to see the understanding generally spread. Jon understands what is important now. Eventually the other government officials will see the real danger, right?

    Then we have Dany, trapped into a futile effort to end slavery. She frees the slaves, and leaves them to their own devices–disaster. She tries to rule and reform a city state in a way that protects the freedman. She tries compromise–disaster.

    And, of course, we suspect that she and her Dragons’ proper role is to save humanity from the Others. Protecting the people who she freed and reforming Slaver’s bay–it seems so just and right..and impossible. And a distraction too?

    Hey, Ned was trying to get justice for his murdered foster father. He was trying to help his King and foster brother. He tried to do the right thing….

    But how much better would it have been if he had remained at his post as Warden of the North, remembering that Winter is Coming? If he had been in Winterfell and his brother had gone missing, maybe there would have been a different approach to conditions North of the Wall.

    Heck, what if Ned would have shown a bit of compassion rather than following the law and beheading one of those who made first contact with the Others? What a tragedy.

    OK, this all takes place in a world where they put fish stew in trenchers, or eat swan, or torturing a false confession is par for the course..is.. interesting.

    Report

  17. I think it’s important to remember that it’s not just sexual scenes. Martin is explicit about almost everything, including sex and violence. Think about the mutilated ruin of the butcher’s boy that the Hound brings back, or Arya stabbing the Tickler to death (or the boy she kills escaping from Maegor’s Keep).

    Report

  18. It is apparent, to me at least, that Doyle is not a particularly good writer, and that post at least suggests she’s not a particularly insightful one either. The whole thing looks like a collection of common feminist blogosphere tropes (including the sarcastic, look-how-clever-I-am style), strewn together without any real analysis. The passage Paul quotes about Daenerys is so poorly reasoned that I was embarrassed for the author when I read it. In sum, the whole post is rather uninteresting, and not simply because I don’t enjoy Martin.

    I will, however, say a couple things in her defense. First, in the quote that Paul is reacting to, Doyle says that she “tends to think women are in a better position to explain What Is Sexist than men are.” Paul agrees with this uncontroversial statement, but then suggests that it means something more than what it says, namely that men are “intrinsically incapable of contributing valid criticism of a feminist critique.” I don’t think she’s saying that. It’s an act of bad reading, and perhaps faith, to suggest that she is. It’s possible for women to have more insight into sexism, as they clearly do, and for men to have insights that can contribute to any discussion of sexism as well. Nothing she says implies otherwise, to me at least.

    The second, related point has to do with the criticism that she is stifling debate by deleting comments that disagree with her position. I’m sympathetic to this charge, because I generally find the censorship of dissent problematic. However, there is a tradition in the feminist blogosphere, with which some here are clearly unfamiliar and perhaps constitutionally unsympathetic, in which a “safe” place for discussion of feminist ideas and female experience is created and zealously guarded. The need for such “safe” places is apparent to anyone who’s ever read a feminist blog where comments are not heavily policed. This sometimes, perhaps often, leads to over-policing, but I can forgive that to some extent, because I have seen the alternative. The best way to debate such blogs, and it appears that Doyle’s is one, is to write your own posts, with links, and make your point as openly and fairly as possible. If the person you’re responding to doesn’t treat you in kind, or merely snipes at you from behind the protection of the “safe place” concept, then you know that the person you’re dealing with is not worth your time.

    A third point: the name of your blog is a pretty valid point of critique, regardless of whether it’s catchy. How many female writers do you have on the front page? How many on the sub-blogs? How many female regular commenters? I don’t think you can chalk all of that up to the name of the blog, but I can guarantee you it doesn’t help.

    Report

    • The lack of females does seem odd, but apart from the title (we could change it to gentle persons). It is not clear how we are a hostile envrionment to women. Discourse is ordered and civil and the bounds of propriety are adhered to.

      Now, sometimes we do act like big lunks, and there are female commentors. However, the proportion of female commentors is really small and there are no women on the front page, that is apart from Lindsay Bayerstein who has stopped for some time. I know Hilzoy would have loved it here. But Hilzoy is a rare gem and not all female bloggers are like her. It seems genuinely mystrious why the aren’t more females around.

      I’d say that its because few women are congenial to liberaltarians as the kind of liberalism and libertarianism that goes on in this blog while not encouraging the subjugation of women implicitly, if not actively rejects the feminist tenet that the personal is political. The vast majority here commenter and writer alike draw a line between the personal and political. But insofar as modern feminism accepts such a distinction, would find this blog relatively uncongenial to their ideas. Think the amount of pushback that such a person would get if they complained talked about patriarchy and the family, about the fact that raising children is generally considered socially useful, but women are not paid to do it etc.

      Report

          • But that, er, proves my point? Calling women and girls “females” reduces us to our reproductive organs, and – as I think you were oh-so-cleverly trying to point out?!?? – disappears trans* people. To reiterate, it’s ALWAYS A BAD SIGN, duh.

            Report

            • So you’re arguing that LoOG should not do things specifically to encourage an apparently less-represented gender, because any attempt to identify that gender is inherently exclusive of persons who are not that gender?

              I’m left with Patrick Cahalan’s attitude of “if you’re telling me that I’ll screw up no matter what, then why should I even try?”

              Report

              • Oh, I think I should try, DD. I still do, just not as often.

                But I do feel obligated to point out the standard to which I’m held, and ask people to assess what I’m saying fairly.

                Report

  19. Pingback: The ins and the outs of speaking about sexism

Comments are closed.