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Today's Recommended Reading!

I wanted to write a long post talking about all of these things in a thoughtful manner, then my brain popped. So here. HAVE ALL THE THINGS.

On Race and History:

It's Time to Talk About Black Tudors

One of the examples of Africans found in important jobs at the time is a man named Fortunatus, who was in the employ of Robert Cecil, a member of Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council, proving that blacks in Tudor times were not always confined to the lower classes. Black representation in 16th and 17th Century art and literature was not unusual. Juriaen Van Streeck (1632-1687)’s painting “A Still Life with a Moorish Servant” depicts a Black man. Jan Brueghel, a prominent Flemish artist also has paintings of Black subjects.

With well-cited facts, records and other documents, credibility is lent to an under-researched and generally unpopular area. Onyeka Nubia acknowledges the challenges of working on such a neglected topic and stresses the history of the African diaspora be “taken more seriously.” Nubia carefully details the problems faced when researching the historical data of blacks — it begs the question, why are modern historians so uncomfortable with discussing the historical Black presence in Renaissance Europe? This is an area of history that hegemonic historians ignore.

Tudor Africans: What's in a Name?

It appears, then, that descriptions of Africans as Blackamoores, Moors, Negroes and Ethiopians in documents, parish records, books and letters from the 16th to the early 17th centuries could be used interchangeably. Of course this does not resolve all the issues related to these meanings. Did Africans choose the various terms that were used in parish records to describe them or were they imposed on them? Did the terms Blackamoore, Moor and Negro really ‘smell as sweet,’ investing those described thus with status and respect or did they have pejorative connotations that reflected perceptions of Africans as dejected strangers, immigrants and perpetual slaves? The evidence uncovered so far suggests that at least some Africans had a sense of their own ethnic identity and not all were slaves.

As the English merchant and trader Thomas Sherley says in 1600: ‘All the Blackamoores in England are regarded but only for the strangeness of their nation and not for service to the Queen.’ But the evidence uncovered so far suggests that his view is not reflective of how most people felt in Tudor England.

On Fandom:

Johnlocked: Sherlock, Slash Fiction and the Shaming of Female Fans

The gendered stereotyping of female fans has a long history: Horton and Wohl, in 1956, described fandom as a surrogate relationship and focused on "para-social interactions": the illusory relationships fans form with celebrities[2]. Joli Jenson noted that literature on fandom argues that fans "suffer from psychological inadequacy, and [...] seek contact with famous people in order to compensate for their own inadequate lives"[3]. More recently Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz note that public commentary on Twilight "positions girls and women as unexpected and unwelcome media fans, and denies the long and rich history of the relationships female fans have had with media texts and personalities"[4], and the publication of E L James's Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in 2012 resulted in hundreds of articles about the emergence of female sexuality and erotica – their authors apparently unaware that women have been consuming porn for years.

That the language of twenty, thirty, and even sixty years ago is still being used to discuss female fans – and only very rarely to discuss male fans – points to the continuing way in which female responses to texts are dismissed. Steven Moffat himself has argued on more than one occasion that women only watch Sherlock because of their attraction to Benedict Cumberbatch. Female fans are held to be unable to appreciate a show’s intellectual prowess, rather they are in it for the men. That is, incidentally, one of the criticisms aimed at slash writers. Jacqueline M. Pinkowitz[5] notes how the activities of Twilight fans are still seen as culturally dismissible, and how, even with the recent publication of books like Anne Jamison’s Fic making fanfiction and slash more mainstream, slash writers are still met with suspicion.

Fifty Shades of Remix: The Intersecting Pleasures of Commercial and Fan Romances

Fifty Shades of Grey's past as a work of Twilight fan fiction has turned a spotlight onto the conversion of fan works for the commercial romance market. Fifty Shades reminds us of the increasing flow of texts, readers, and writers across these two categories of storytelling. Blurring traditional genre categories, stories like Fifty Shades represent a challenge for fan and popular romance studies. While scholars need to be attentive to medium specific contexts, the impulse to deny intersection may signal problematic assumptions and artificially segregate these storytelling forms. This paper reexamines past work on the differences between fan fiction and romance, arguing for greater attentiveness to the ways these two modes of storytelling intersect. Focusing on the importance of intertextuality and play with form in romantic storytelling, the paper argues that greater attention to these qualities offers new ways for us to study texts like Fifty Shades of Grey and may help scholars reconceptualize the relationship between fan and commercial work.

On the SFWA fracas:

Apparently, these guys don't want women to write science fiction

A conversation on a science-fiction forum this week revealed a section of the community that's teeming with indignation about recent attempts to make the genre more progressive.

Just when readers thought the dust had settled on last week’s debate about “political correctness” in sci-fi publishing, a group of highly influential writers spent the past few days lamenting the rise of increasingly vocal women and minorities in their community. The discussion happened on a list-serv thread where the participants apparently thought no one would notice them—at least until they remembered all their posts were public.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Me, as a useful representative example

So this is why I feel weird about writing about this. My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.

I know that there are a ton of women who have received similar messages — and can we stop pretending that sexism is happening because it’s SFWA? Sexism happens all the time. It’s visible in SFWA because people are actively fighting against it.

Cheap Tarts expands a bit more on the attacks on Kowal specifically (and women generally):

If Mary decided to wear a Lady Gaga meat suit to a con I don’t think that it would be much of my business. However my point is: While people talk about the freedom to have a cheesecake Red Sonja and how this is an important cause to fight for, we are busy judging what a writer wears and her personal appearance. A woman is constantly under scrutiny even in situations where you would think she would be safe of such scrutiny (at a convention and awards ceremonies, for example).

But women must put up with this stuff all the time. Dress nice, but not too nice or some dude will think you are some sort of tart and criticize you for your necklines. Be social, but not too social because then you are some kind of attention whore. Smile. Play nice. Don’t complain. I’ve been called fat, ugly, a lesbian for writing pretty mild blog posts such as this one. And not only by random trolls. Sean P. Fodera, as he likes to remind everyone in his posts, works in the publishing industry.

You can imagine the constant state of paranoia a woman can live in when casual comments on message boards treat her as insignificant, stupid, and the like. This is the kind of shit we deal with on a regular basis. And then you wonder why we worry about sexism and stuff like that? It burns. It really does.

Would you like some tits with your guild?

We make fun of romance novelists but their organization seems capable of not pasting Fabio’s ass on the cover. Meanwhile, Truesdale is fighting for your right to have a badly painted chain-mail bikini Red Sonja wannabe.

John Scalzi: Join the Insect Army

“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.” — (name withheld) on SFF.net, during the recent unpleasantness.

Heh heh heh.

I realize, of course, that the person who wrote the comment above meant “insect” as an insult. But what do we know about insects? They are numerous, adaptable, highly successful as a class, and, when they put their mind to it, absolutely unstoppable. No wonder this person seems absolutely terrified.

N.K. Jemisen: Pretty much the only comment I’ll make here on the current SFWA shenanigans

But context matters. Ethics matter. The guy initiating this petition has an extensive history of filling some of the most visible parts of the SFFsphere with his misogyny, homophobia, and other choice bigotries. He often wraps these ideas in anti-political-correctness freedom-fighting MURRICA flag-waving, but when it comes down to it, that’s what this petition is pushing for — this guy’s right to be a bigoted asshole, essentially unchallenged, in SFWA publications. Ditto a few other (mostly older, white, straight) guys’ right to do the same; this freedom to spout hate and fear and contempt for whole swaths of people is a privilege they once gleefully embraced, and they’re mad because it’s not the norm of professionalism anymore. They want it re-normalized. And by standing up not for artistic expression, but for the violent, exclusionary rhetoric that has made SFFdom such a hostile environment for many non-male non-straight non-white people, every signatory on that petition has basically laughed at the First Amendment. This has squat to do with freedom of expression. It’s about making sure the old (sorry, “The Old”) white guys get to talk how they want about the “furry pussies” and the “savages” and the “metrosexuals”, while making sure the targets of their vitriol STFU, waste energy defending their right to exist unobjectified, or leave the profession. That’s basically the opposite of what the First Amendment is supposed to do.

And yeah, I get that part of the problem here is that some of the petition’s signatories feel marginalized. Yet somehow Truesdale had a column in F&SF for years, and somehow Malzberg and Resnick had the SFWA Bulletin as a platform for years. And somehow lots of these signatories are bestsellers or former SFWA officers or have earned the highest awards in our genre, as the petition so-helpfully emphasized.

But you don’t get to claim marginalization when you’re at the center of a thing. You can’t endorse the efforts of bigots to establish a safe space for their bigotry, and then plausibly claim you’re not one of them. You don’t get to pretend that you’re in the demographic minority when you’re… not.

ETA: Information Just Wants To Be Free Tumblr collects "the best of" the comments thread regarding the matter on the SFWA listserv. (That Awkward Moment When Everyone Remembers This Is a Public List-serv totally deserves to be a meme.)


( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
Feb. 18th, 2014 10:01 pm (UTC)
*reads with fascination, horror, edification, and amazement*

Oh, SF&F,
Feb. 18th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
You know, as frustrating as the SFWA conversations are, I am glad that these are conversations we are actually having! (Although I wish people's true colors weren't as apparent sometimes. I saw an SF critic I previously respected refer to people as "knee-jerkers" and it's like, "Well, I can't take anything HE says seriously anymore."

But, in the same way RaceFail 09 actually ended up making POCs in genre more visible, in making cultural appropriation a topic of discussion, etc. I'm hoping this, whatever this is (SexFail 2014?), will end up highlighting both the visibility and importance of women in SFF's ranks.
( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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