Overcoming Sexism in Geek Culture

This past weekend was MileHiCon (MHC), and I experienced a whirlwind of conversations in peak moments. However, I was also on two specific panels back to back that become controversial (by nature), and I want to contrast some of the shared concepts and get my thoughts out on virtual paper. This post likely will be less cited than most of my comments about women’s rights–this is a reaction/conversation post.

The two panels in question were (in order): Overcoming Sexism in Geekdom and Geeks Assemble! (the latter being a panel about whether it’s good that Geek is going mainstream).

On the first panel I was amongst many women plus the brave Dan Dvorkin, who likely expected to be shunned as the only male on the panel. I also found it interesting that every single participant was white and some variant of blonde–interesting because that theoretically focused our specific discrimination complaint to being female, although we had other variance in the group.

Now, there are some things I want to point out about both panels. In both cases someone pointed out that members of the geek culture frequently serve as “gatekeepers” for other members–they feel the need to keep the girls, or the anime geeks, or the goth geeks, or the sports geeks, or whatever kind of geek, out of their area of enjoyment. They pee on the lamppost of their geekdom and expect their loud chest-thumping declaration of adoration to stand for ownership in absence of their creation of the very geekdom/fandom they seek to claim. This very tendency even started a casually loud argument between Aaron Ritchey and me about whether JJ Abrams’ Into Darkness is ruining his childhood or shaping the childhoods of the next generation. I believe that any sci-fi that entrances a new generation is worthy of attention. Just like the Romeo and Juliet remakes that keep causing the grownups to roll their eyes–how else will the new age of technology incorporate the classics?

Someone asked the question “When did Nerds become Geeks?” I answered that it happened as a transition when being a “geek” might mean that you made a lot of money in that thing you were passionate about. It’s the Age of the Geek, so to speak, and smart people are making loads of money on things that probably got them beat up or shoved into lockers in high school.

Now, apologism is high in the sexist anticulture, and I have a particular problem with the way that people (male and female alike) will apologize for the geeky males. “Oh, they don’t know how to act around girls, so that’s why they do those socially unacceptable things.” Yes, absolutely. I always threaten to rape anyone who makes me uncomfortable in a social situation. It’s like a chest bump of love.

In my experience, the reaction I have had from the geek guy community has been that they treat me like one of the guys, or fail to acknowledge my existence. The former is assisted by my appearance (not exactly boobalicious here), and the latter is difficult for most people to do. So when I flare up in a conversation and say “Hey! That was a misogynystic comment! I’m still identifying as female over here!” it’s usually a cold bucket of water over their heads. Sometimes that means I lose the friendship. If I were more traditional (ha, ha) in my mentality, that would probably be enough to keep me from speaking up. But you know what? Misogynyst jokes are just like racist jokes, because they are against an entire group of people. A REALLY BIG GROUP OF PEOPLE.

There was a middle aged white guy in the audience sitting up front, and he had a lot to say. Some of it could have used some social understanding (IE, not making those blanket “well, *I* don’t behave that way toward women” statements), but mostly he was participating despite potential backlash. And he did get it. Someone in the back verbally bitch slapped him for speaking up. Shortly thereafter, someone else went on a tangent about white guy shaming, so called.

So, I guess the definition of white guy shaming is calling out the group (white guys, particularly aged 18-85) for the fact that their privilege is out of control and they’re abusing the system. And then one white guy gets upset, offended, feelings are hurt whatever. And we’re comparing that to slutshaming where a girl thinks she looks pretty and the whole world tells her she obviously is just in it to be a whore. Oh, and she gets rape threats. Bet the white guy gets those too, right?

Someone pointed out that it’s not possible to white guy shame, and I kinda agree, but on this point:
My pointing out that your common white male name on the top of a resume makes you at least 40% more likely to get a callback than my unidentifable maybe-black-maybe-female-maybe-European name does not cost you jobs or even encourage you to change your name to Locutus. You don’t lose anything.
My pointing out that being white and male makes you considerably less likely to be followed around a store by a clerk who expects you to steal does not make the clerk follow you around.
My pointing out that you being a white male gets you a high-five-free-rape-pass (especially if Football is involved) obviously doesn’t limit your opportunities or capability to rape.

Verdict: My shaming doesn’t cost you anything. Shaming is the wrong word. I’m calling you on your historical right to be better than everybody else because culture and society told you you can have whatever you want, and you bought into that malarky when it was bottle fed to you by everyone around you.

But you know what? You’re a grownup now. And now you are required to take action and take responsibility for that action.

My friend Matthew Boroson tells the story of his father who, in 1970s New York, parked by the side of the road only to find a very large angry African-American screaming at his window. “Move this car!” he shouted, over and over. Finally, Matt’s dad rolled the window down and said “What do you want?”
The man said “You parked on my foot!”
Matthew (who wears shirts like “This is what a feminist looks like”) relates this to the so-dubbed Dinosaurs of groups like SFWA, who make the argument that they are old and set in their ways. But even those set in their ways have a social obligation as not-socipathic-members-of-society to stop and listen when someone says “You’re hurting me!”

Someone else made the argument that not every woman feels safe coming out and saying “Stop. You are hurting me.” To that I say that is our responsibility to speak out. If we do not speak out against the attitudes of our peers and those before us, how will our daughters learn to walk with their heads up? But if you are faced with something that you can’t speak out about, it is your responsibility to find someone who can speak on your behalf. We are 51% of the population. We have voices, and if we cry out and let them hear us we will overshadow and drown out the voices of those who try to shout us down.

Another person mentioned that they were upset by a concept called “slobshaming,” particularly when people call out how she dresses at cons. I will agree that, prior to the business conferences I have attended, I previously might have been upset with someone asking me to dress “more professionally.” My issue with this idea is that how you dress portrays what you want other people to perceive about you. That’s your control over the situation. Hygiene is important, and using independence from judgment as an excuse for poor hygiene is just that–an excuse. However, the problem is that “professional dress” is defined completely differently for men and women. Case in point: The KMBS manual for business attire had one page for men and twelve pages for women. Seriously. Lots of “you aren’t allowed to wear this” type images. Really discriminatory, but this IS the company that wouldn’t cover my wife because they didn’t have the funds…11 billion dollar company and all.

This may be one part rant and one part recap.
But it is also me speaking out, and bringing some thoughts into the conversation.

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NaNoWriMo: Surviving and Winning

NaNoWriMo is coming up, and as a repeated achiever of that madness I wanted to share some insight with you all.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, indicates the month of November, and is a brilliant literacy-and-creativity-encouraging event thought up by some people who thought it was a good idea to try to pack 50,000 words into 30 days. During the beginning of the holidays. And then they added competition, community support, and the idea took on a life of its own. For those who don’t do novels, per se, there are also script frenzies, edit frenzies etc that they sponsor. The group is a nonprofit that lives off the talented volunteering they have garnered across the globe. I discovered the community in 2005 and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Those who have read some of my work may be surprised to know that Beneath the Crust was written during the 2009 NaNo, a giant chunk of STEAM scripts were written during the 2011 NaNo, and I wrote book 2 (Breaking the Light, working title) last year during the 2012 NaNo. My intention is to write the final book of the trilogy, Defying the Sky (working title) during this NaNo. Having those successes is great, but I wanted to lay out the pros and cons for you and let you make your own decision about whether NaNo is for you. I’ll also give you my methods for survival, because the first time you try to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days you will experience madness.

Some PROS of NaNo:

  1. It gets you writing.
    Seriously. Even if you don’t consider yourself a novelist, the act of pouring out 50k words is an experience everyone should include as part of their ongoing education in life.
  2. It creates a deadline.
    Most people don’t realize how much deadlines impact what they accomplish. If you are an aspiring writer, whether accomplished or not, having deadlines will drive you forward. If you’ve never worked under deadlines before, you will learn a skill that many editors wish many authors had acquired.
  3. You have community support.
    Most of the time, if you tell the people around you that you are going to write a novel, they will tell you to get a real job. Or tell you about their story. Maybe they’ll be supportive, but secretly they think you’re nuts. The upside to the NaNo community is that everyone involved is there to help you reach your word count–whether you like it or not.
  4. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
    It’s generally understood that the first 50k words or so you spew forth in a frenzy will be unedited and in need of some love. And that’s OK.
  5. You can use run-on sentences.
    This blog is my practice for NaNo, and like my novel will likely need additional editing after the fact.
  6. People who would never have written anything are enticed by the competition.
    With any luck they are reading thanks to NaNoWriMo too.

Some CONS of NaNo:

  1. You have a deadline.
    And that means you have to be self-motivating. Get your stuff together, kid. You’re going for a ride.
  2. The “novel” you create will be really rough.
    No one. NO ONE. Writes a perfect novel without editing. You will need lots of it after this.
  3. 50,000 words is a really short novel.
    Good thing you have all of December to write another 50k, right?
  4. Holiday Season.
    It’s easy to get sidetracked by the second half of November. But at least it’s not December?
  5. People will think you are crazy.
    But that’s a given.
  6. People who have no business writing will be writing.
    But don’t be an elitist, seriously.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the ultimate goals of NaNoWriMo.
Your absolute first goal is to hit 50,000 words. This is the definition of “winning” at NaNo.

Your second goal (which is important AFTER 50k words) is to complete the first draft of the manuscript. That means continuing after you hit 50k if that is not a complete work. And this goal is the hard one, because you’re going to want to pop a cork after you hit the first one.

Now for the protips. The techniques and methods discussed in this blog post have worked for others, but we cannot guarantee the techniques and methods utilized here will work for you. But for the love of Zeus, try them anyway. If you haven’t already succeeded at NaNo, your best bet is to hear out the people who have. So, here are my steps for success (survival) and winning.

  1. Use a word processor like Microsoft Word if you can, because it keeps track of words. Save your work often. Don’t lose a whole chapter to system failure. Use this word counting system to keep track of how many words you are up to, so that you can track your progress.
  2. Sign up on the website for an account and join your local NaNo community. And then stay off the forums once the thing actually starts, unless you’ve hit your word goal for the day.
  3. This one is really important, and it’s the reason this post is coming out in early October. Do some prework before you get to November. Decide on a general idea for your story. Decide on a working title. Figure out a main character and write a paragraph or two out about who that person is. Without these ideas you will have a hard time starting strong. To go the extra mile, write a personal profile for each of the core characters for your story.
  4. This ties into #3, and is absolutely my most important protip. Write an outline of your story. If you expect to write a 60,000 word novel with 20 chapters, get a sheet of paper. Write #1, then next to it write 3-4 sentences about what will happen in that chapter (generally speaking). For example (from book 1):1: Kip Jensen Awakens from a strange dream and finds herself in the bunker she shares with Aria, her close friend. She prepares to leave for a day of exploring Old Denver and swipes a map from Aria in the process. She and Aria have a heated discussion about history and the government. Kip leaves Aria to her own devices and races off to the city on her cycle, Bat.This outline you are writing may change entirely while you actually write, but it is your lifeline to keep you on track when you get writer’s block. And you will get writer’s block. The outline (if you stick to it) will also be a rough basis for the synopsis you will need to write when you start pitching your novel, so get to it! You want to do this for every single chapter. I usually find that some of my one-sentence ideas really need a whole chapter, and when I am actually writing I will edit the synopsis as I go. The important thing is to have the synopsis ready.
  5. Set a goal of how many words you will accomplish each day, and don’t go to sleep until they are written. If you need 1,667 and got 3,250 done today, don’t take a break tomorrow. Get your 1,667 done anyway. If you take a break you won’t finish.
  6. Be firm with yourself and your schedule. Select a time every day (the same time every day, if possible) that you are going to write. Give yourself at least an hour. Don’t let yourself off the hook–if you don’t plan for the time you won’t get it done.
    I find the best time for me is before I go to work, which means I do most of my writing from 5am-6am (and then get ready for work). Unfortunately, having a toddler has made my sleep more precious to me, so last year and this have/will have experienced quite the sleep challenge in November.
    The most important part of this point is that you need to pick a time that won’t be too hard. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to write at 5am! If your job is really tiring, don’t try to write immediately after you get home from work. If the time is too hard, you will struggle to maintain your schedule.
  7. If you maintain a busy schedule away from your keyboard, carry a notebook with you. Any time a thought comes to you jot in those extra 25-200 words. Every little bit is progress, but don’t forget #5. A notebook is no substitute for a word processor.
  8. If you hit a wall, just keep writing. It might get weird, it might get redundant, but the point is to make it to Goal #1. You can fix the reappearance of the word “ash” 67 times during editing.
  9. Attend a write-in if you can (see the NaNo forums for details) because it’s good to look for community support. But don’t expect to get a ton of writing done there, make sure you get your day’s words in beforehand. It’s hard to write and socialize at the same time.
  10. Turn off the internet. Seriously. Do NOT surf Facebook during your writing time. It won’t work.
  11. This crazy thing happens when you’re focused on writing one novel–other ideas that sound more amazing will come to you. Don’t start over! Finish what you started! Even if you hate the 50k words, just sludge through to the end. Editing can turn a painful story into a brilliant gem! If you have time after the first 50k, start the next novel…
  12. Don’t lose momentum. If you’re on a roll and you hit 1,667 words, keep writing if you can spare a few extra minutes. At least finish the thought you’re working on.
  13. If you’re having trouble sleeping, get up and write.
  14. Finish what you started! I can’t say this enough. If you hit 50k early or if you hit it on the 30th, focus on writing that novel to a conclusion. Remember goal #2: A complete first manuscript. The first 50,000 words will only carry you forward. Keep going.

Well, that’s the main gist of my formula, and I hope it helps you NaNoWrites out there–go forth and be prolific! Those of you who are already accomplished authors, weigh in–how do you NaNo?

Monday Musings: Forgoing the Shutdown for More Important Conversations

As many of you know, there’s a shutdown going on right now. The media isn’t being as helpful with that as I would like, but I am also getting frustrated with all the finger pointing and blame going on via social media. As usual, there are many people with a “This is both sides’ fault…” attitude, and wrath and destruction rising up everywhere.

This led a good friend of mine, Guy Anthony de Marco, to post this blog about why writers should avoid reposting a lot of politics on their public pages. That started a lot of controversy, so I think Guy took the blog post down (I certainly can’t find it)…If not I’ll update this with a link to that post when he gives it to me.

Many of you know that I wrote my own controversial wrath and destruction about Chic-Fil-A back in the day, last year around this time ish. I’ve pulled that post because it wasn’t particularly kind to some of my family members who do occasionally read things that I write. So, that in mind, this conversation is more expansive and talking less about individuals on a small level.

I was recently asked to speak on a panel about the misogyny present in SFWA and sexism in geek culture in general. Let me give you a timeline of recent events as far as a woman and a lesbian can expect from main stream global culture at the moment:

In August of 2012, Chic-Fil-A president Dan Cathy came under scrutiny for the fact that Chic-Fil-A funds many anti-equality groups such as NOM. Here’s backlash lasting even into the next year.
In March of 2013 evidence of the plan for the shutdown occuring now came out in the form of the ongoing battle to prevent mandatory healthcare from covering any form of contraception. Regardless of intended use.
In April of 2013: SFWA article tells women that Barbie is a good role model because she “maintained her quiet dignity as a woman should.” A response by Betsy Dornbusch.
In September of 2013 Barilla CEO starts out by saying he’d never feature a gay family in an ad because they prefer the traditional family unit…and then digs his hole deeper by saying gays shouldn’t adopt…and even DEEPER by saying that they “respect the woman’s role in the family.” IE in the kitchen. A response from HuffPost, including the original troublesome quote.
Oh, and this Fake Geek Girl thing has been coming up over the last year or so…
Also in September, Russia decided to come out as being even more anti than usual, as they passed an anti-“Gay Propeganda” law just in time for the Winter Olympics. Here’s some of that backlash.
And then just now this past week, October 3rd, a congressman derailed a reporter by saying “You’re pretty, but you have to be honest as well.” As though beauty and truth can’t exist in the same person, apparently.

So, we have two things going on here–a war against women and a war against the LGBT. But they aren’t necessarily separate wars, because they are both potentially propegated by a stereotypical patriarchal attitude that dictates the virile straight white male as the dominant ruler of the known universe. As the saying goes… they came for the LGBT community, but I was not LGBT…and then they came for the women, and we were too busy fighting for our own status quo that we did not notice, until there were none of us left to fight.

Now, I don’t want to start a name-calling-man-hating-hair-pulling-fistfight here today. Instead, I want to talk about why this series of events is NOT OK, and why the homophobic CEO of Barilla is so much worse than John Doe Homophobe in the neighborhood you live in.

First of all, let’s get the First Amendment out of the way. Wikipedia defines the First Amendment as preventing the government from establishing a respect of any particular religion, and as protecting freedom of speech.

Let me be perfectly clear. The first amendment DOES NOT protect ANYONE from social backlash due to their opinions or beliefs. It does not guarantee any individual the right to immunity from the community’s attack on their general asshattery. If someone opens their mouth and inserts their foot, they have the right to speak their mind provided they are not harassing others or being obscene or molesting children, but they DO NOT have the right to say whatever they want without paying any consequences inflicted by the public at large. The government can’t throw them in jail for being vocal jerks (otherwise Orson Scott Card would be in prison for life), but the public is another story. Using the “I have my first amendment rights” cry is a bogus excuse to be a bigot. Period.

Now, let’s talk about why these guys are in the wrong–starting with Chic-Fil-A (and Hobby Lobby, and any other “Christian Values” company out there). The problem ultimately stems from the fact that these guys are behaving as though their client base is entire in agreement with their personal values. If you want to operate with that conception, go start a church. Like the WBC guys. Problem solved. But if you want to use money acquired from your chicken sandwiches, company money, you shouldn’t be using it to further your personal convictions against another group. You can use it to save children from starving (that would be ironic), or to promote world peace, or whatever. But keep your personal religion and politics out of your company. Despite apparent laws to the contrary, your company is not an extension of you. It is a brand, and a brand has the obligation (especially when it’s based off of food!) to make the attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible. That means being kind to your fellow humans. That means keeping your politics to yourself. It means that if the LGBT community wants to work in your stores, you sure as hell can’t fire them because they are LGBT. Having a religious belief as the president of a company employing from and selling to the general public does not give you the right to use your position of power to enforce your moral code on others.

Your brand is at stake.

Let’s move on to Barilla, who not only made an ambivilous statement much worse by sputtering more and more outrageous statements after the first, but who also picked on women. He even went so far as to say “If gays don’t like it they can eat another brand of pasta.” You heard him, folks! Boycott Barilla! He understands the power of money dollars, but what he fails to recognize is the sheer volume of GLBTA consumers–not just those who are directly impacted but those who believe in the concept of human equality even when it doesn’t directly impact them. Barilla issued a pseudo-apology (much like Chic-Fil-A did), and you can see for yourself how that went. He apologized “if anyone was offended.” Which is the same as saying “You’re a jerk for thinking I was saying something offensive.”

Let me tell you the story of the previous company I worked for. Once upon a time, it was a small ~300-employee 50 mil a year company based out of California. It had its ups and downs, but because it was based in California it afforded same-sex-couples full benefit coverage. To a point. My coverage was mostly paid for by the company, but they didn’t pay any portion of my wife’s coverage and it was post-tax rather than pretax. But at least they offered health coverage. But then along came a really REALLY big company (KMBS, 11 billion in global revenue at that time) who bought out my little employer. And the first thing they did was change all of our benefits and remove ALL same-sex coverage. Now, being the person that I am, I put my foot down hard. I wrote emails. I sent letters. I made calls. I pled and bargained and wheedled. My wife and child (who had just been born) needed health coverage. First, the company told me that I was the only employee in the entire 30,000+ employees who had this problem. They told me that since Colorado did not at the time have laws protecting same-sex couples, I wasn’t getting coverage. I went to the media. I tried to talk to anyone who would listen. But no one wanted to take on a global company with 11 billion in their pocket. I finally received a tiny bit of allowance from them…if I went and got married (NOT a domestic partnership or civil union) in another state (at the time, only three called it a marriage) then they would cover my wife. The domestic partnership offered by Boulder County was not enough because I didn’t live in Boulder County. Incidentally, the regional director was also a lesbian and told me that KMBS was so not-helpful that she went on her partner’s benefits–not an option in a single income household like mine.

At one point the HR representative told me (in response to my accusation of discrimination) they “Didn’t care” what I did in my personal time, but they “weren’t obligated to cover it.” And again, later, the same person told me that the company (11 billion, remember?) “Couldn’t afford” to offer domestic partner benefits to everyone who asked for them. Wait, I thought I was the only one asking?

KMBS, you can’t afford to be bigoted against your employees. And I hope someone who lives in a not-so-at-will-state comes after you.

My point, amongst this diatribe, is that big companies and small companies have only one set of rights–the right to mouth off and go under, or the right to strive for success and treat all of their potential customers equally. That means keeping their money and their bigotry out of the way of the equality movements rolling through our world.

Now let’s talk about why SFWA and anyone making fake geek girl type claims adds to this situation. First of all, Geek is a lot like Gay…that is to say, you don’t get to say how gay I am any more than you get to say how geek I am. Just because I’m under thirty (for a little while) and did not have to undergo the same scathing disdain for gaming that some of the dinosaurs underwent does not mean that I am not a geek. Just because I keep my hair long does not mean I am not a lesbian. Capiche? The only person who knows what I like and who I am to the full extent of my classification is me. The same goes for my capabilities–as a woman, or even if I were a man, my capacity for talent is up to me, not up to you. And you’d better keep your twitty Barbie fantasies to yourself.

That being said, SFWA and many organizations like it were started with the idea that people could own a market and help themselves get more publicity and publication in the Sci-Fi world. Many of the guys in SFWA refer to themselves as dinosaurs. But I want to quote my friend Matthew Boroson, who was on the SFWA panel with me at MalCon. He said that everyone, as human beings, has an obligation to stop and listen when someone says “You’re hurting me.” The outcry at SFWA over their antiquated notions, the rage rising up in the geek community of women over the abuse and harassment of women. Geek men, you have an obligation to stop, to listen, and say “How am I hurting you? What can I do to stop hurting you?” If you don’t, you are behaving just like a sociopath–dictating to more than half of the population that you have a voice and they should not. That their hurts are invalid. That you know them better than they know themselves. Maybe you are a dinosaur and older than Methusala and likely to die any minute from the sheer weight of your own audacity. But you can still slow down your boulder-rolling and listen to the people you hurt. Matthew believes those who are incapable of admitting that they have hurt someone and listening to why should separate themselves from the population–for the good of the whole. Obviously locking themselves in the basement playing video games isn’t working for that any more, because now there are women and LGBT and minorities and other REAL PEOPLE playing video games. Oh snap.

In that brilliant conversation, our audience brought up the point that the almighty dollar ultimately is the closest thing to a vote that we can use. While our congressmen and the lawmakers in Russia have moral obligations to uphold the best interest of the people–but they aren’t, at least not if they’re women–the companies have their own best interest in mind. So we can only guide their moral compass by not spending our dollars with them, and by telling them WHY.

The reason that my family boycotts Chic-Fil-A to this day is because our money is the loudest voice we can speak with. We will not see Ender’s Game in theaters or read the book, because Orson Scott Card is so anti everything I stand for that saying his name out loud makes my teeth hurt. Barilla will not be on my shopping list again, probably ever. We avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby. We avoid shopping at Walmart whenever possible because they have a history of being jerks to women and the LGBT community, We have those options. In today’s age and global economy, economic revolution is the best form of protest we have.

The list of challenges in this past year just goes on and on and on…over and over, daily, it seems that people in power are making blanket statements or overtly suppressing women and the LGBT community. Downplaying their intelligence and honesty by mentioning their attractiveness. Insisting that the family unit is formed by one woman and one man, and the man should be working while the woman is in the kitchen. Etc etc etc etc.  But one good thing is rising up out of all this sudden open attack against (women especially). The curtain of silence is slowly falling away. People are standing up against the harassment. Slut-shaming, rape culture, fake geek girls, all of this disgusting display of the celebrated masculine mentality that makes it OK for Mal from Firefly to call his obsession a whore…It will be overcome. And we’d better get to it, ladies, because my daughter is only 2 now…but she’ll know soon that quiet women never make history.