Hotel Fires Employee For Calling Someone A “Slut” Online. Is This A Free Speech Issue?


Content warning: Misogynistic online harassment, including rape threats.

I want to respond to a comment left by Desipis, but to do that, I’ll need to bring in some context.

Clementine Ford is a feminist columnist from Australia. Various misogynists have contacted her to say abusive things, and – if the person contacting her hasn’t covered up their identity – she publicly outs them. For instance, this summer, Ford outed a man who emailed her “I’m going to bash and rape you stupid little sl**. Lesbian scum.” The man apologized, and (ironically) was subjected to strangers sending him horrible messages and threats (which I don’t approve of). Around the same time, three high school boys were suspended after Ford reposted misogynistic and racist messages they’d left on her Facebook page.

According to Ford, “It’s not unusual for me to field abuse like this, although it tends to be more of a constant drip than a deluge.” But this week, it’s a deluge. Because Michael Nolan got fired.

A bit more context. On Ford’s Facebook page, Ford posted a screenshot of someone telling her “You would jibber heaps less with a cock in your mouth.” Michael Nolan left a single-word response to this on Ford’s Facebook page: “Slut.”

In a follow-up post, Ford posted a screenshot of Nolan’s “slut” comment, along with screenshots of him reposting or agreeing with a couple of racist jokes. She linked her post to the Facebook page of Nolan’s employer, Meriton Apartments – meaning that whoever runs Meriton’s facebook page would be notified about her post. Ford wrote:

This was a comment left on the thread of a screenshot of a man publicly saying I would jibber less with a cock in my mouth. Calling me ‘slut’ in response to that is baffling, unless this man genuinely believes that women who speak out against abuse need to be taken down. Why should I put up with that?

There are basically no consequences for men who behave like this, so we have to start making consequences for them.

Five days later, Meriton contacted Ford to let her know they’d fired Norton. Ford wrote:

To anyone who suggests I have caused a man to lose his job, I’d like to say this: No. He is responsible for his actions. He is responsible for the things he writes and the attitudes he holds. It is not my responsibility to hold his hand and coddle him when he behaves in an abusive manner just because it might have consequences for him. Women are often told to stay silent about harassment because it’s not fair to ‘ruin a man’s career’. Why is their behaviour our responsibility? Enough. If you enjoy exercising misogyny online, you only have yourself to blame if the people with power over your life – your bosses, friends, family etc – decide that they don’t want to be associated with you anymore. The targets of your abuse are in no way, shape or form responsible for making sure your actions have no recriminations for you.

In the open thread, referring to how employers can be a threat to free speech, Desipis commented:

On that topic, Clemintine Ford has demonstrated again how many people thing being for social justice is about being as big an arsehole as you can be.

To those that argue freedom of speech isn’t about being protected against consequences, I’ll say it’s not about that, it’s about disproportionate responses.

That guy that takes a swing at you for looking at his girlfriend the “wrong way”? Arsehole.
The woman that calls the cops on a man in the park with a camera, or for being black? Arsehole.
Pushing for someone to be fired because they said a nasty word online? Arsehole.

So, a few thoughts:

1) I want to get to the free speech question, but I can’t not comment on Desipis’ jaw-dropping false equivalency between someone being irrationally harassed for being black, or being assaulted for looking at someone, versus someone being fired because of their own bad behavior. Maybe Michael Nolan shouldn’t have been fired, but he’s certainly not blameless here.

2) It’s good to get the idea of “disproportionate responses” into this discussion.

3) I can’t judge Michael Nolan as an entire person, because I have no idea. Maybe calling someone a slut and sharing two racist jokes is the worst thing that Nolan has ever done. (Who among us has never said or shared anything regrettable online?) Or maybe he’s consistently a hostile, abusive racist misogynist, and his bosses were already on the verge of firing him. Maybe the firing was completely fair. We just don’t know.

4) But if the firing was unfair, then blame should mainly lie with Michael Nolan’s former boss, not Clementine Ford.

5) If we’re going to be casting judgements on Clementine Ford – and that’s where Desipis and many others are taking this – then let’s acknowledge that Ford wasn’t just responding to Michael Nolan’s comment. She’s responding to a seemingly never-ending stream of misogynistic abuse. (For lots of examples, check out the repulsive comments Ford’s received since Nolan’s firing.)

If I think of it as just this one incident, then yes, responding to an online insult by reporting it to Nolan’s employer is disproportionate. But if I think of it as an ongoing problem – people (mostly men) are persistently sending her online abuse because they have no incentive to stop – then Ford’s policy of outing her harassers, when she can, seems like the only tool she has for creating a disincentive for harassers.

In the comments of the Open Thread, Grace asked Desipis a very telling question:

Out of curiosity, what would you rather Ford had done, other than ignore it? She has already tried to use Facebook’s feedback mechanism to address comments far worse than that. Facebook user “Mathew Harris” wrote, “Clementine you are the most annoying feminist slut to have ever walked the earth. Please sit on a butchers [sic] knife so that you may never be able to reproduce.” Facebook’s response: “We reviewed the comment you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.”

Is Ford supposed to meekly accept being a punching bag for misogynistic comments for the rest of her life? Why expect women, in the face of nonstop abuse, to act like saints, putting their abusers’ well-being before their own? Why would Ford owe Nolan and all her other abusers that level of consideration?

Michael Nolan is literally someone who saw a stranger complaining about misogynistic harassment, and his response was to call her a “slut.” Even if contacting someone’s boss is disproportionate – and I think it is – the root problem here is Nolan’s behavior, not Ford’s.

Now, about free speech….

6) Obviously, if we define “free speech” narrowly as only about government actions, then there’s no free speech issue here. But that’s not how I define it, and I see two free speech issues here.

First, it’s a problem when employers punish employees for what they say in their off-hours. It’s an incredibly bad idea for employers to act as speech police. Being fired for saying something offensive is, in most jobs,1 a disproportionate response. And it’s one that has the potential to chill the speech of anyone who can’t afford to lose their job.

There’s already too much of this sort of thing going on. Anything that normalizes the belief that employers should punish the off-work speech of their employers is harmful – not just to Michael Nolan, but to the free speech of everyone with a boss.

7) Second, online harassment is a huge free speech issue. Constant online abuse shuts people up – and that’s the goal of the harassers. Misogynistic harassment shuts women up – and that’s the goal of the harassers.

I personally know multiple women who avoid discussing controversies online – even controversies that they feel passionately about and have a lot to say about – not because they’re afraid of reasoned disagreement, but because they’ve seen the over-the-top abuse heaped on Clementine Ford, and Anita Sarkeesian, and Zoe Quinn, and Irene Gallo, and Brianna Wu, and Adria Richards, and Kathy Sierra, and so many more, and they’ve made the perfectly rational choice not to take that risk.

Clementine Ford appears to have skin thick as a bank vault, and says she won’t be deterred from speaking. Good for her! But being as resilient as Ford shouldn’t be a requirement for discussing controversial issues online. Free speech only for those with a Ford-like ability to withstand tons of abuse, isn’t free speech.

  1. I can think of some exceptions – for example, a politician’s campaign manager. But in general. []
Posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 1 Comment  

Open Thread And Link Farm: Rabbit Mask Edition


  1. My friend Jenn Moore has started a new blog, Broken but Beautiful. Please go check it out.
  2. Justice Antonin Scalia Can’t See The Difference Between LGBT Rights And Child Molester Rights. This is why I’m desparate for a Democrat to win the next Presidential election.
  3. The Complete History of Transgender Characters in American Comic Books | Autostraddle
  4. Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets – Vox
  5. The Confused Thinking Behind the Kimono Protests at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and, Seeing Beyond “Kimono Wednesdays”: On Asian American Protest. Two contrasting views on a recent “cultural appropriation” controversy. In this case, I’m on the side of the writer who calls the protests “confused thinking.”
  6. Report: Transgender Job Applicants In D.C. Face Staggering Discrimination Rates: DCist
  7. Study Finds People With a Disability Are More Likely to Face Employment Discrimination
  8. A survey measured 38 countries’ support for free speech. The US came out on top. – Vox The survey didn’t include any look at how people felt about copyrights interfering with free speech, however. Or employers interfering with free speech.
  9. Why I Provide Abortions – The New York Times
  10. I’m really enjoying Mapcrunch. Just hitting “go” again and again and teleporting to different spots on earth. (If you like a challenge, you can play the airport game, but “challenge” here is synonymous with “tedious.”)
  11. Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year – The Washington Post
  12. The 911 System Isn’t Ready for the iPhone Era – The New York Times
  13. How Fox News’ Climate Change Denial Finds Its Way Into Children’s Textbooks | Blog | Media Matters for America
  14. Why one political scientist thinks Donald Trump might actually win – Vox
  15. These stairs are so gorgeous, and the only way I’d ever go down them is backwards with my hands and feet, like going down a ladder. So steep! What was the designer thinking?
  16. Should Marvel’s Iron Fist Be Cast With An Asian American? Short answer: Yes. He makes a good argument, I think.
  17. How to Prosecute Abusive Prosecutors – The New York Times
  18. Laquan McDonald and The Corrupt System That Killed Him – The Atlantic
  19. Icelated — Sick Burn from the Official British Rebuttal to The Declaration of Independence.
  20. The tardigrade genome has been sequenced, and it has the most foreign DNA of any animal – ScienceAlert Includes an incredibly cool animated GIF of a tardigrade swimming!
  21. ‘No more baby parts,’ suspect in attack at Colo. Planned Parenthood clinic told official – The Washington Post. So when you use fake footage to paint Planned Parenthood as monsters unfit to live, this is the unsurprising outcome.
  22. Ted Cruz Describes Alleged Planned Parenthood Shooter As ‘Transgendered Leftist Activist’ | ThinkProgress Also unsurprisingly, Cruz is lying.
  23. The Perpetually Frustrating Conversation About Sex Differences | | Observer A good Cathy Young article that – despite some pointless (and unsourced – which feminists have said “the sexes are exactly the same and that men are evil beasts and women perpetual victims”?) feminist bashing – I by and large agree with.
  24. Faith in Representation: Valiant Efforts A thoughtful comic strip, by Sarah Winifred Searle, about representation and a forthcoming fat superhero. (Thanks to Richard for the link.)
  25. Donors gave a super PAC $6 million. Candidates actually got about $140,000. – LA Times In a nutshell: A lot of people who thought they were donating to Ben Carson, were actually mainly putting money into the pockets of PACs and consultants and mailing-list gurus.
  26. 5 things the media does to manufacture outrage. — Medium Thanks to Harlequin for the link.
  27. Why Consensual Sex Can Still Be Bad — The Cut
  28. And a commentary on the reaction to the above article: Sex can be entirely legal and also really bad.
  29. Gamergate: The Greatest Trick The Devil Ever Pulled – The Establishment I’m linking this piece mainly because of the fascinating story of “Allison Prime.” I always find sock puppet narratives compelling.
  30. Well that neighbor feud took an amusing turn.
Posted in Link farms | 13 Comments  

A Dialog Between A Bernie Sanders Supporter And A Hillary Clinton Supporter


A Bernie Sanders supporter on Tumblr wrote:

People who endorse Hillary Clinton: we need a women president! #WhiteFeminism

People who endorse Bernie Sanders: we need this man to win to take money out of politics, to promote and campaign for progressive politicians nationwide, to champion economic freedom for the poor, to create millions of jobs, we need free higher education to stay competitive and to have a more educated debt-free populace, to improve our infrastructure, to promote small local banks that will not be predatory lenders or ruin our economy, to ask Wall Street and the 1% to pay their fair share, to take drastic and immediate action to save the environment, to not send us to catastrophic wars.

To that,1 let me say:

People Who Endorse Hillary: I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because

1) The next president is likely to appoint at least 2 Supreme Court Justices, and for every domestic policy issue I care about, whether a Republican or a Democrat chooses those two or more SC Justices is actually the single most crucial decision to be made by the President. So I’m voting for the candidate who is most likely to be able to beat whomever the GOP nominates.

The President can do relatively little domestically without Congressional approval (but see point 3 below), but is relatively unfettered when it comes to diplomatic policy. Hillary Clinton has a long history of significant diplomatic accomplishments, Clinton was instrumental in changing US policy towards Burma from one of isolation and sanctions to one of active engagement, which arguably played a major part in the military government allowing the transition to representative government to actually happen (so far). As Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton is responsible for the successes of the administrations work on the loose nukes issue, making the world much safer. As first lady, Clinton took a large role in the negotiations with China over MFN status, and is probably still the most respected American politician in China today. Relations with China will be very important for the next President. (I plagiarized all these arguments from comment writers on an earlier post, btw – thanks, Kate Charles and Ben!)2

Sanders, in contrast, has no diplomatic experience, and on the campaign trail shows an irresponsible lack of interest in or knowledge of foreign policy. Since managing foreign policy is arguably the largest and most important thing a President does, it’s hard to endorse a candidate who doesn’t even seem to take these issues seriously.

3) If the next president is a Democrat, then on issues outside of foreign policy, they are guaranteed to face an obstructionist Republican Congress – Democrats have no chance of retaking the House in the next election, and little chance of retaking the Senate. So the next President will have to be an expert at wielding the limited powers of the White House to do whatever can legally be done without Congress’ cooperation.

In other words, experience in the executive branch matters. Knowing every legal loophole the White House can use to thread some decent policies past Congress, matters. Sanders may have better views than Clinton on many issues – but what matters most isn’t what the President would do if they had an imaginary wand they could wave to write policy, but what they will actually be able to accomplish despite the GOP Congress. And it seems unquestionable that when it comes to knowing those pragmatic loopholes, Clinton – a major player in two different President’s administrations – is a much better choice than Sanders.

4) After 43 male presidents in a row, it really is time for a woman to be president. I don’t mean to say that I’d vote for anyone as long as she’s female. But if I had an otherwise equal choice to make, being a woman would be a good reason to vote for Hillary.

But if their sexes were reversed, I think I’d still be voting for male-Hillary over female-Bernie, because it’s not an equal choice; Hillary is the better candidate.3

People Who Endorse Bernie: See? SEE? The only argument Hillarybots make is “we need a women president!”

  1. #NotAllBernieSupporters []
  2. The truth is, I don’t agree with all the pro-Hillary arguments above – I think Clinton’s diplomatic accomplishments are put in shadow by the danger of electing a president who supported the Iraq War and was instrumental in Obama’s disastrous Libya policies, and I’m very skeptical of “electibility” arguments, since if Bernie manages to win the Democratic primary despite Clinton’s huge advantages that would indicate to me that he probably has the skills needed to win the general election as well. (And, besides, “electability” arguments are what gave us John Kerry.) But they are definitely arguments I’ve seen people make. []
  3. Actually, I will probably vote for Bernie in the Democratic primary, because I think he’s doing valuable work by pushing Hillary to the left, although damn I wish he’d push her much more on foreign policy. But by the time I get to vote here in Oregon, probably the Democratic primary will be over, even if Bernie is still on the ballot. []
Posted in Elections and politics, Feminism, sexism, etc | 19 Comments  

Greer in Cardiff Follow-Up


Since I previously posted about Greer in Cardiff, it’s worth noting that Germaine Greer did speak in Cardiff, as planned. She had said earlier that she wasn’t going to, but apparently she changed her mind.

A few notes:

1) After saying that she wasn’t going to speak about trans issues, Greer did talk about trans issues during the Q&A, repeating her usual themes (trans women aren’t really women, etc). I don’t want to debate Greer’s anti-trans views (which are appalling and wrong) in this thread; if you want to get into those issues, please bring it to the Mint Garden.

2) There were about a dozen “peaceful protesters.”

Protesters outside included present and former Cardiff University students who criticised the institution for paying Greer for the lecture. Mair Macey, a former Cardiff University student who now works for HMRC, said: “I really care about transgender people. Having Greer here reflects badly on the values of the university. There is no way she should be invited to give a distinguished lecture.”

Author Elwyn Way said: “We don’t think she should be given a platform like this and go unchallenged.” Way said trans people were suffering emotional and physical violence and needed to be protected rather than vilified.

All of those seem like very reasonable views to me.

3) According to the article, Payton Quinn, who organized both the petition to disinvite Greer, and the protest, was “frustrated that the free speech issue was overshadowing what she saw as the more salient problem: Greer’s views.” Which brings up the tactical problem with trying to no-platform a speaker like Greer: The discussion inevitably becomes one about free speech, rather than one about trans rights or Greer’s views.

I think the students were absolutely right to protest Greer. But I wish they’d taken an approach other than no-platforming.

4) As a general rule, I think that campuses should encourage people with all views to speak on campus, except for views that combine being egregiously worthless with being essentially dead and settled issues (holocaust denialists, for example). This means that many people whose views I consider terrible – anti-trans bigots, people against marriage equality, pro-lifers, climate denialists, anti-fat bigots, etc – I also think are legitimate campus speakers, because those issues, sadly, are not dead and settled.

5) But not all campus speaking engagements are the same. Organizers of the anti-Greer petition have said they wouldn’t have objected to Greer being part of a debate. But bringing in a speaker like Greer to give a paid, distinguished lecture, in which there will be no opportunity for debate, is significantly different. The University wasn’t bringing in Greer to contribute to a lively discussion of a controversial issue. They were bringing her in to honor her. This strikes me as a more legitimate thing to object to, somewhat analogous to US students protesting some commencement speakers.

6) Even though I think it’s a bad idea to ask Cardiff to cancel Greer’s appearance, it’s very obvious that people have a free speech right to do so. Greer has every right to speak, but she doesn’t have a free speech guarantee of being paid to give a distinguished lecture. But students and others unquestionably have a free speech right to ask Cardiff to take particular actions – including picking a different speaker for a distinguished annual lecture.

Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 27 Comments  

Writing Advice from Novelists: How to Start Your Second Book

To support SFWA this year, I auctioned off a writing advice article on the topic of the bidder’s choice.

The winner was Mark Tompkins whose debut novel, The Last Days of Magic, is coming out from Viking in March. Unsurprisingly, Mark has a lot of questions about novels and the business of novelling. Since I’m primarily a short story writer, I can’t answer from experience. So, instead, I gathered short responses from some excellent novelists who can answer from experience. My plan was to read all the answers from the writers I contacted and then add a few words of summation, but really, I think the answers are excellent and stand on their own.

Thanks to Mark for supporting SFWA!

Steven Gould, author of Jumper:

There is a saying in writer workshops the world over. You never learn how to write a novel; you only learn how to write this novel. There is an element of truth to this.
Here are two things to keep in mind:

1. Try not to repeat yourself: Don’t make the new characters just like the old, don’t use the same plots twists, do give us new settings and MacGuffins. Let your readers know you’re not a one-trick pony.

2. Try to repeat yourself: Do try and keep the things that worked. What were the things you did that made your characters interesting/sympathetic/flawed? What were your ways of describing setting and place that allowed your readers to be there? How did you get your protagonist(s) committed and out of the beginning and into the middle of your novel.

You will have themes that are conscious and thematic material that is unconscious. Don’t let it drift into propaganda or polemic. Be aware, though, that the things you really care about will emerge/inform/surface in the story. Sometimes you will see this and sometimes you won’t. It’s probably better if you didn’t see them coming.

No matter how your first book did, this is a new thing. Make it count. Take joy in the process.

And most of all, make it something you want to read.

N. K. Jemisin, author of The Inheritance Trilogy:

That’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. :) I think there’s two ways to answer it — philosophical, and practical. The practical is the easy part: open new word file, start writing, same as when you start any new project. You kinda have to do it because a) your book may not sell, b) if it sells (or has sold already) it will need an editor’s notes and those will probably take weeks or months to come, c) if you’ve turned in the final, after-revisions version it’ll be a year or two AT LEAST before the book actually comes out, and d) if the book is successful, your publisher will immediately be after you for your next book, so it’s a good idea to actually *have* one.

The philosophical part matters too, though. Emotionally and psychologically speaking, finishing a novel is (I imagine) equivalent to having a baby: in the immediate and painful aftermath, the last thing you want to think about is doing it again. But as I said, practically speaking you need to do it, so you have to get over the “no mas” reaction. Personally, I’ve never had any trouble doing this; I’ve almost always got another project on the back burner of my mind, and finishing one gets me excited to start the next. But I know that for some people it takes more work to drag your mind back into the wordcount mines. It *is* a good idea to take a brief (put a time limit on it) breather to recover. Write a short story as a palate-cleanser. Go on a vacation, hug your family, etc. Seek inspiration in these things, to remind yourself of why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Then… butt in chair.

Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings and “The Paper Menagerie:”

As with so many things in writing, there’s no single answer that works for everyone. What I say here is based on my own experience and the experiences of other writers I’ve talked to, but I don’t claim the generalizations here to be universal.

Ideally, when you sold your series, you also pitched an outline for the series along with the manuscript for the first book. You shouldn’t feel that you have to stick to the outline, of course, since no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, but at least you have some landmarks to strive toward. This is both a plus and a minus, as I’ll explain.

The biggest difference in writing the second book in a series compared to the first one is probably one of timing. You likely spent years polishing your first book, and you had the luxury of rounds of beta readers and multiple drafts. With the second book, you’re writing to a deadline, and missing the deadline will have cascading effects on the publisher’s publicity plans and hurt your sales. You have to be prepared to work much harder and faster on the second book than your first one, and you may need to limit the number of drafts you can do.

Somewhat surprisingly, the first book you wrote may turn out to be your biggest obstacle. The worldbuilding you did and the plot of that book will constrain your choices in the sequel. This is why it’s critical to take good notes as you write book one, tracking time lines, locations, character traits, details about the world — by the time you write the sequel, the first book will no longer be fresh in your head. Good notes will save you a lot of time and frustration and
prevent you from violating your own rules.

It’s also really important to maintain a sense of excitement as you work on the sequel. The fact that you’re not creating a world from scratch can drain some of your creative energy, and if you’re not excited by what you’re writing, the reader won’t, either. This is why it’s helpful to plot book two so that it upends the world of book one in some way — welcome the chance to be surprised by your own

Above all, have fun!

Helene Wecker, author of The Golem and the Jinni:

First, celebrate. Turning in your novel is a huge hairy deal. Go out for a fancy dinner with a significant other or something. Give yourself permission to relax for a few days. You’ve probably been holed up for a while, so go talk to some humans. Send a few emails to friends, accept an invitation to coffee. Go for a walk outside.

Ok, now back to work. It’s a good idea to focus on marketing during the pre-pub months, and to that end you’ll want to prep a master Q&A about the book. My publisher sent me one with about a dozen questions (“How did the idea come to you?” “Who were your favorite characters to write?” “Describe your research process,” etc). It took forever to fill out, but it meant I didn’t have to think on the fly during interviews or readings. If your publisher doesn’t do it for you, make one yourself, with what you’d guess are the most likely questions that a reader or interviewer would ask. It might feel tedious, but you won’t regret it.

Source: Rachel Swirsky’s blog

Posted in Interviews, Mandolin, Writing Advice | Tagged | Leave a comment  

On The Definition of Misogyny, And The Related And Uninteresting Question, Is Dave Sim Misogynistic?

A Man Wearing A Grey Shirt

A Man Wearing A Grey Shirt

So Sandeep Atwal and I have been disagreeing on the definition of misogyny.

Sandeep says that misogyny means “hatred of women,” full stop. I agree misogyny means “hatred of women,” but it additionally means (to quote the OED) “Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.”

Well, technically we’ve been arguing over if the brilliant cartoonist Dave Sim is a misogynist – Sandeep, who is Sim’s friend, says that Sim is not; I say that Sim is.1 But it all boils down to how one defines “misogyny.” As Sandeep wrote in his reply to me:

Certainly definitions are very important and this argument is going to come down, in part, to the definition of misogyny. If you want to say that anyone who does not trust women is a misogynist, then by that definition Sim would be a misogynist. Okay, end of conversation.

Of course, distrusting a particular woman based on experience with her, or distrusting everyone without singling women out, isn’t misogyny. But someone who singles out women and says women as a group are untrustworthy, is displaying “ingrained prejudice” against women, a.k.a. misogyny.

(Also, it’s misleading for you to boil my side of the argument down to the word “distrust,” as if you’ve been arguing that misogyny only means “hate” while I’ve been arguing it only means “distrust.” That’s not the argument we’ve been having.)

So what does misogyny mean?

As I pointed out earlier in our discussion, the word “misogyny” was first used in English in the play “Swetnam the Woman-Hater,” published in 1820 but performed as early as 1818. (They spelled it “misogynos.”) Later uses of the word derived from this play. The play, a satirical farce, was written as a response to Joseph Swetnam’s hugely popular 1815 pamphlet The arraignment of lewd, idle, froward, and unconstant women. At the play’s climax, a women’s court finds the Swetnam stand-in character guilty of “Woman-slander, and defamation.”

So according to the word’s coiners, misogyny is not a narrow concept referring only to hatred, but a broader concept referring to to slander and defamation of women (and as I read it, sexism against women in general).

Of course, possibly the meaning of the word has evolved since 1818. But most current dictionary definitions seem to agree that “misogyny” refers to more than just blind hatred. (Dictionary definitions aren’t everything, but a definition from a well-done descriptive dictionary does indicate how researchers have found English speakers are actually using a word).

Sandeep writes:

Certainly definitions are very important and this argument is going to come down, in part, to the definition of misogyny. If you want to say that anyone who does not trust women is a misogynist, then by that definition Sim would be a misogynist. Okay, end of conversation. That doesn’t really address his points, though. But, come on, let’s be honest here, people aren’t going around saying Dave’s an asshole because…gasp!…he doesn’t trust women!

I hate “come on, let’s be honest.” In argument, what it means is “I’m going to say something I believe to be true, without presenting any evidence, and by framing it as ‘let us be honest’ I’m suggesting that if you don’t accept my unsupported statement as truth you’re not being honest.”

(Also, see my prior note about the misleading way you’re using the word “distrust,” as if I’ve been arguing that misogyny means “distrust” and nothing else.)

Why can’t people think that someone who exhibits prejudice against women2 such as distrusting women in particular – is an “asshole”? That seems to me to be an ordinary and commonplace usage of “asshole.”3

They didn’t draw him as a Nazi because they think he doesn’t trust women. They think he hates women.

For my blog readers who don’t know, Sandeep is alluding to a February 1994 Comics Journal cover, which featurd a caricature of Sim as the guard at a Nazi concentration camp, to accompany a story about Sim’s misogyny.4 I agree it was a stupid and over-the-top cover – and what we’d now call clickbait – but citing this example doesn’t help your argument, Sandeep. I’m not arguing that no one thinks Dave Sim hates women – obviously, many people think that.5

But that’s not the question. The question is, can I legitimately sign a petition saying Dave Sim isn’t a misogynist? To sign that petition, I’d have to believe Dave has never exhibited a pattern of “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” And no, I can’t believe that, because I’ve read Dave’s writing.

But if Dave wants to start a new petition saying “Dave Sim is not a Nazi,” I’ll gladly sign that one.6

But as he once stated, he follows the maxim of his lawyer, “Trust no one.” So he doesn’t trust women and he doesn’t trust men. So Dave Sim hates men and women because he doesn’t trust them? That seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

If you were arguing against someone who said that “distrust” and “hate” mean the same thing, this would be a meaningful argument. But you are not, and it is not.

What, then, do I think qualifies as misogyny? Well, I’m going to stick to the notion of hate. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense to say of someone, “He’s a misogynist, but he doesn’t hate women.” or “He hates women, but he’s not a misogynist.” The terms are as close to interchangeable as they can be. As such, I don’t think his statements about women demonstrate “an intense, passionate dislike”. I just don’t think hatred even enters into it.

It would make perfect sense to say of someone “he’s a misogynist, not because he personally loathes every woman he meets, but because he’s displayed dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” This is a common way that people use the word “misogynist”; it’s the way that I’ve been using it, and I’m pretty sure it’s the way Neil Gaiman has been using it.7

A dictionary like the OED is descriptive. They don’t say what words ought to mean; they say how current English speakers and writers actually use the words. So although a dictionary definition isn’t absolute - if someone uses a word differently than how the dictionary says, that doesn’t make them necessarily wrong – a good dictionary is a researched, expert guide to how typical English speakers are using words.

So if you’re saying “Come on, let’s be honest! No one really uses ‘misogyny’ to mean ‘dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women,'” and the OED says that is how people use the word, and if in addition I tell you that I’m a person and that’s how I use the word–

Then you’re simply wrong.

It’s as if you said “no one wears grey shirts.” If I can point to a highly-regarded fashion guide that says wearing grey shirts is commonplace – and if, furthermore, I can point out that I myself am wearing a grey shirt – then that settles the matter. There are, in fact, people who wear grey shirts. That you, yourself, do not realize that some people sometimes wear grey shirts does not in any way change the fact that some people sometimes wear grey shirts.

In an email to me (which Sandeep kindly gave me permission to quote), Sandeep wrote:

However, I think you’d have to explain why, if the OED definition of misandry is “The hatred of males; hatred of men as a sex.” (I’m using then why can’t we just use “hatred of females; hatred of women as a sex.” for misogyny? Doesn’t seem unreasonable. The etymology of both words is fairly simple, so I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be interchangeable in that sense.

The definitions of words in a dictionary aren’t about what the word ought to mean based on etymology, or based on what related words mean. That would be a “prescriptive” approach, which is not the approach actual lexicographers take. A dictionary is “descriptive” – it is based on actual usage, not on etymology, and not on what “seems reasonable.”8

Or, why not use Merriam-Webster, since that just defines it simply as “a hatred of women”? Does it have to be the OED? Does it have to be the OED’s precise definition as currently stated?

It doesn’t have to be the OED. When I first got into this discussion, the first definition I quoted was “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women, or prejudice against women,”9 from the Random House dictionary, via I’m also fine with definitions like “The adjective misogynistic is good for describing a dislike or hatred of women, or a deep-rooted bias against women in particular” from

And, also, I’m fine with Merriam-Webster’s definition, “hatred of women.” That is how some people use the word, so M-W isn’t wrong. As far as I’m concerned, one way people use “misogynistic” is to mean “hatred of women.”

But it’s not the only way people use the word.

Lots of people use the word the way the OED, and Random House, and, and many other sources, describe. And you haven’t given any reasonable arguments as to why I should use the M-W definition to the exclusion of all others.

I’m not the one of us trying to limit the discussion to a single, narrow definition of the word. You are.

* * *

I do apologize for taking so long to respond, after telling you (in email) that I would respond. Honestly, after saying that, I reread your long post, and decided that – despite you being admirably polite and amicable – it was probably a waste of time to attempt to discuss this with you any further. Because you wrote this:

I’m mostly discussing and explaining this to myself, so when I say “you” below, I’m generally not ascribing any claim to you personally, but to the counterpoint of the argument I’m trying to make, so I’m not trying to put any words in your mouth or set up any straw men.

Actually, Sandeep, responding to the counterpoint of the argument you want to make, rather than responding to the claims I’ve actually made, is exactly a strawman argument.

So when you write, “it doesn’t make sense to me to suggest that until fifty years ago, all men simply, ‘hated women,” that’s a strawman. I’m not making that claim; as far as I know, no one is making that claim. I’ve explicitly said I’m not using “misogynistic” to mean only “hatred of women.”

And you’ve chosen to ignore what I’ve said and respond to an argument I’ve never made. And you do this over and over and over, throughout your essay.

It takes me a lot of time and effort to make arguments like this one. If the person I’m talking to isn’t even going to bother responding to what I myself have written, preferring to respond to claims I’ve never made, then how is responding a good use of my time?


You made a lot of other arguments, but most of them are completely lacking in substance. For example:

Here’s a list of best-selling women’s magazines on Amazon. The claim that the most popular men’s magazines don’t say anything relevant about men and their interests, and that, similarly, the list of women’s magazines says nothing about women and their interests is simply not credible to me. These are going concerns, the most popular magazines in America with circulations in the millions that must appeal to the interests of their respective markets or go out of business. A significant portion of their budget is spent on finding out exactly what their readership wants, and then giving it to them.

You used Woman’s Day, a best-selling magazine, as an example. Woman’s Day has a total circulation of over three million, most of whom are women. Three million sounds big – until you consider that there are approximately 125 million women above age 16 in the USA alone.10

To be sure, a random, representative survey of American women could say a lot about 125 million women based on far fewer than 3 million data points. But the readers of a particular magazine are neither random nor representative; they’re a self-selected and wildly unrepresentative sample. The only group you can draw conclusions from, by looking at the readers of Woman’s Day – is the readers of Woman’s Day.

You can’t say anything about men-in-general by looking at men’s magazines. You can’t say anything about women-in-general by looking at women’s magazines. You’re like someone looking at a class of 100 children, noticing that two of them are wearing glasses, and spinning off a bunch of wild conclusions about how children in general wear glasses.

Another example: Having a rape fantasy, is not the same as wanting to be raped in real life.

* * *

I don’t really consider “is Dave Sim a misogynist” to be an interesting argument, because the only reasonable answer is, yes, obviously he is.

You might as well ask if Picasso was an artist; sure, “art” is a subjective term, lots of people hate Picasso’s work, blah blah blah, but in the end, the answer is “yes, he’s obviously an artist according to how nearly every single person in our society uses the word, and anyone arguing otherwise is doing rhetorical backflips and arguing an unjustifiable position.”

For example, I wrote this, quoting Dave:

To me, taking it as a given that reason cannot prevail in any argument with emotion, there must come a point – with women and children – where verbal discipline has to be asserted, and if verbal discipline proves insufficient, that physical discipline be introduced.”

Here, Sim says that he thinks men should physically beat women (but “leave no mark which endures longer than, say, an hour or two”) if they can’t “prevail” in an argument. He also conflates women with children. Both these views are misogynistic.

You responded:

I think you completely and totally mischaracterize Sim by saying he advocates that one should “physically beat women.” Men don’t beat women. Only cowards beat women. You learn that before Kindergarten.

Spanking someone so hard that a mark endures for “an hour or two” is beating, unless you’re going to use some tendentious definition of “beating” that I don’t care to argue about. More importantly, unless the hitting is consensual, it’s despicable and wrong, and I don’t care what term you prefer for it.11

Obviously, Sim believes in corporal punishment—in this case, spanking—when it comes to women (and children). If you find the idea of spanking a woman offensive on the face of it, I understand, but does advocating such a position de facto make you a misogynist?

Yes it does. First of all, equating women with children is misogynistic; such an equation is “ingrained prejudice against women.” Women are rational creatures, who can be argued with rationally, and without resorting to violence, as much as any person can be. Dave’s position is a denial that women are rational creatures, and as such, misogynistic.

Secondly – and this is so obvious that I can’t believe I’m saying it – advocating hitting women is misogynistic. That you can’t see that completely destroys your credibility on the subject of misogyny; nothing you say on this subject could possibly be taken seriously by any reasonable person, ever.12 You might as well ask if advocating hitting Jews is de facto antisemitic.13 Of course it is, and arguing with someone who can’t see that is like arguing with someone who says water isn’t wet. (And this, by the way, is the other reason I decided responding to you would not be a good use of time.)

(It’s also terribly wrong to hit children – including spanking – but arguing that is beyond the scope of this post.)

I also don’t think he is conflating women and children any more than the phrase “women and children first” conflates the two.

The phrase “women and children first” does conflate women, not in every possible way, but certainly in grouping women and children together in a category of “people who should be rescued first.”

Likewise, Dave’s argument conflates women and children, in that he groups women and children together in the category of “people who are incapable of rational argument.”

  1. Normally, I try to avoid saying that someone “is” a misogynist, preferring instead to criticize particular statements or arguments, rather than a person. But this all originally came up in the context of signing – or not signing – Sim’s “Dave Sim is not a misogynist” petition, so putting it that way was “baked in” to the discussion from the start. []
  2. And in Dave’s case, an extraordinary level of prejudice against women []
  3. Note that I myself am not calling Dave an “asshole.” But it’s not unrealistic to think people would say that. []
  4. I searched for an image of the cover to link to, but couldn’t find one online, which implies that this cover image from 22 years ago is not actually a significant part of how people think about Dave Sim nowadays. []
  5. Honestly, I think so, too, for many common definitions of “hatred” – for instance, Miriam-Webster defines “hatred” as “prejudiced hostility or animosity” – but the exact definition of “hated” is a bit off topic. I’m actually not very interested in the question of “is Dave Sim a misogynist,” because this is an question that matters to almost nobody in the world other than Sim himself. But the question of what “misogynistic” means comes up often enough so that it’s probably useful to set some arguments down. []
  6. Just as I’ll gladly sign a petition saying that Dave has many good traits, that Dave has been personally kind, helpful and encouraging to both female and male cartoonists – including me, that Dave has many positive things to contribute to the comics community if he wishes to, that I think it would be appropriate for Dave to go out in public, and that Dave is one of the most brilliant cartoonists ever. But I won’t sign one saying that Dave’s not a misogynist. []
  7. I mention Neil Gaiman because this discussion was set off by Gaiman tweeting that although he supports Dave Sim’s patreon, he will not sign the “Dave Sim is not a misogynist” petition. []
  8. Incidentally, I bet that 20 years from now, the OED has broadened the definition of “misandry.” Because I’ve seen lots of people use “misandry” to mean something broader than just “hatred” of men, and presumably the OED dictionary researchers are likely to make the same observation. Unless, of course, the people I’ve been observing using the word “misandry” are very unrepresentative of how users of the word “misandry” are actually using the word. []
  9. Note that it says “or,” not “and.” []
  10. See table 2 of this pdf document from the US Census. []
  11. I also disagree with many implications of “only cowards beat women,” but this response is already too long, and unpacking all the misogynistic and misandrist implications of those four words would be a tangent. []
  12. I know enough about how these arguments go so I suspect someday, someone – perhaps Dave Sim – will quote this sentence to make some broad point about how feminists don’t think anyone can ever disagree with them and remain worth listening to. Obviously, that is not what I’m saying. []
  13. I’m ignoring technically-correct-but-obviously-besides-the-point counterexamples, like “what if a boxing league forbids Jews, and I argue that Jews should be allowed to join the league?” Obviously, there are weird specific circumstances that might be exceptions; also obviously, no good-faith rebuttal of what I’m arguing here could hinge on such an example. []
Posted in Anti-feminists and their pals, Feminism, sexism, etc | 33 Comments  

Awesome Patreon: Carmen Maria Machado

I’ve been trying to set up a new series to draw attention to cool Patreons, sort of like John Scalzi’s The Big Idea or Mary Robinette’s My Favorite Bit, but more haphazard. A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally linked to Carmen Maria Machado’s Patreon in advance of when I had everything ready. So–oops.

If you don’t know what Patreon is, it’s a website that matches creators with patrons who help directly support their art. Some patreons are set up by project–for instance, my friend Barry Deutsch receives payments whenever he finishes a new political cartoon. Carmen’s is set-up on a monthly schedule. It’s a cool way for fans to make sure their favorite creators can keep making art.

Carmen is one of my favorite new writers. She crafts beautiful, accomplished mergings of literary and horror fiction. She describes her own writing as “about sex, sexual agency, sexual violence, sexual oppression, desire, queerness, the female experience, illness & death, pop culture, hypochondria, the uncanny, the human body & its fragility, storytelling, myths, and fear.” I think she’s a strikingly original, inspiring talent. Last year’s Nebula-nominated novelette, “The Husband Stitch,” mingles immersive, psychological surrealism with campfire horror stories.

Carmen also agreed to do a short interview with me, which is below. Whether or not you decide to toss a few dollars her way, you should definitely check out her beautiful stories.

I really love your writing. One of the things I find most beautiful about it is the way it seems to wing free from traditional structures, and yet come together in this lovely, unexpected way that still feels satisfying and impactful. How do you approach structure as you write?

Every project is different. Sometimes I start off with a form in mind. Stories of mine like “Inventory,” “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” “We Were Never Alone in Space,” and “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” were all born with their shapes intact. I wanted to write projects with certain kinds of forms or formal constraints, and that’s what I did.

But in “The Husband Stitch,” for example, the formal elements of the story didn’t come until later drafts. “The Husband Stitch” was initially just the main narrative—the woman living her life with her husband—and the parts where I tap into other urban legends only came later because I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I also have another recent story (I don’t want to give many details; it’s on submission now) where I started off thinking about formal constraint and tried a few different ones, but the story really resisted, and so I backed off and wrote it without one.

Insofar as a story is alive, or at the very least a discrete thing with its own Platonic self, I think the story either absorbs artificial forms or rejects them. I just try to figure out what the story needs.

Horror. A lot of us grew up on, and recapitulate, fairy tales — me, Kat Howard, etc. Another thing I’m excited about in regard to “The Husband Stitch” is that you play with more unusual, but still culturally significant, narratives. Ghost stories, urban legends. Sofia Samatar and Genevieve Valentine have done a little of that as well, and I’m very intrigued by how it plays out. What about those narratives calls to you?

I once read this really great essay by the writer Hubert Dade where he talks about being compelled to write horror because life is horror—because we live in a world where people go to schools and shoot children and people kidnap and rape and murder and that he himself has his own fears about his life and what he has and what could be taken away from him. I always assign it to my students when I’m teaching horror because I think it directly addresses a common problem students and other early-in-their-art writers sometimes have, where they’re intrigued by the trappings of horror but are less interested in what makes something actually horrifying. (Lovecraft also addressed this in “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” where he separates “fear-literature,” which touches on cosmic dread, from “a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome.”) They have their characters run from monsters or get cut up all bloody-like or experience ghosts, but there’s no weight behind it, just splatter and gore and roaring.

I think that good horror always has a metaphorical component of some kind, where the story is touching on real human fear. What does it feel like to not be believed? What does it feel like to be up against something you can’t control or conquer? And so on. You can build any kind of narrative/world/trope over top of questions like that, and the story can be horror. (And it can be other genres, too. These are really basic human questions.)

This is a very long way of saying that horror calls to me because I am at times overwhelmed by life’s many terrors—death, illness, gendered violence, loneliness, well-intentioned evil, wasted time, the power of societal pressures and expectations, and so on—and I find the exploration of that (both in my reading and writing) to be a satisfying way to deal with those emotions.

The Iowa question. [Note: Carmen Maria Machado and I are both graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop.] Tell us a thing or two you learned that the rest of us should know.

I don’t think I learned any kind of magic advice at Iowa that no one else has heard of, but there was one thing I saw modeled again and again that I really respected: honoring the project, and the writer’s intentions. A good teacher—and a good workshop in general—will be helping the writer make their story the best version of itself, rather than something they themselves would write. This isn’t always simple—sometimes the writer’s intentions are not exactly clear—but trying to get a story to switch genres or attacking it on the grounds of what it’s doing compared to your own fiction’s standards, as opposed to its own standards, is useless to everyone involved. This applies in any direction, whether it’s criticizing a story for not being “genre enough” (or genre at all), or criticizing it because it contains spaceships or aliens or monsters or fairies. These elements in and of themselves mean nothing; what is the author trying to do, and is their story doing that?

This sort of loops back to the idea of the story’s Platonic self. Lorrie Moore’s “Terrific Mother” (humorous realism) and Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (liminal & metafictional fantasy) and Alice Sola Kim’s “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” (science fiction) are all perfect stories that are doing, in my opinion, exactly what they set out to do. Suggesting that they switch genres simply because you dislike or don’t understand one of those genres is ludicrous. I’ve seen this in workshops and writing groups and elsewhere and it’s always very disturbing to me. You might as well criticize a house for not being an apartment complex. Rather: is the house doing a good job of satisfying its own purpose, and if not, what can be done to make it better?

So, yeah. Ask yourself what the writer is trying to do. Respect the project.

What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received? 

“Write what you know.” It’s not that it’s the worst, precisely, just that despite its good intentions (helping young writers ground their narratives in experiences with which they’re emotionally familiar) it’s just very limiting. I think a better version would be “Start with what you know, or what interests you, and move outwards from there. Don’t be afraid.”

You get to walk into any horror story or urban legend in any role you want. Who would you be? 

Okay, I have thought about this question for, like, half an hour (seriously—I went and made myself a fresh pot of coffee and everything) and I think the answer is “none” because urban legends and horror stories never exactly turn out happy, well-adjusted, alive people at their ends. But I guess life doesn’t, either? I’ll stick to this role—my own—where I’m reasonably sure that supernatural things don’t actually exist, bring down the number of bad and sad things that can happen to me from “infinity” to “slightly less than infinity.”

Tell me about your Patreon and its goals. What projects are you working on that it will help fund?

Right now, I balance my teaching income (which, as an adjunct, is quite low) with freelancing. The freelancing is great and flexible, but time-consuming. My goal with my Patreon is to be able to replace freelancing projects to free up time for my fiction (which, at the moment, includes a few short stories and a novel project). At just over $100/month, I was recently able to drop a monthly assignment that’d been taking up about 10 hours/month. Any new contributions will build toward a second foregone assignment. And if you’re considering contributing: thank you so much! You can email me with any questions about my Patreon or other means of support at carmen dot machado at gmail dot com.

Source: Rachel Swirsky’s blog

Posted in Interviews, Mandolin, Patreon | Tagged | 1 Comment  

Making Fear a Thing of Beauty

A reading and workshop built around strategies for turning what scares you into art.

When: December 12, 2015, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
Where: QED Astoria, 27–16 23rd Avenue, Astoria NY 11105
To buy $5 tickets click here.
Here’s the Facebook event page.

When I received from the Queens Council on the Arts the 2015 individual artists grant that made it possible for me to finish my second book of poems, Words for What Those Men Have Done, I intended, as I’d written in my proposal, to use the public presentation of work that I would do to fulfill the grant to start of a conversation in my community about male survivors of sexual violence. Once I started planning the event itself, however, I kept coming up against a question that I’d never really thought about. Why make art out of my experience of sexual violence in the first place? It wasn’t that I had doubts about the value of my work or the role it might play in raising people’s awareness, but raising awareness is not why I write the poems that I write, and so I began to wonder if a program that reduced my art to an awareness-raising tool was really what I wanted to create.

So I took a step back and read through the manuscript one more time, paying attention to how the poems that deal explicitly with sexual violence fit into the book as a whole, and I discovered a thread running through the work that I hadn’t noticed before: coming to terms with fear. I haven’t thought of myself, when I think of myself as a survivor, as afraid in a very, very long time. Yet the more closely I looked at the poems touching directly on who I am as a survivor, the more I realized that, whatever else they may be, I’d written them in confrontation with a fear I had never explicitly named–which meant I’d written them not to end that fear, but to turn it into something beautiful.

On the one hand, this seemed to answer my question about why I write such poems in the first place. On the other hand, however, it raised a second question with disturbing implications. What does it mean, then, to find beauty in sexual violence? I am not talking, of course, about the simple, straightforward beauty of surfaces, but rather about the beauty that puts us in touch with the full depth of what it means to be human, that does not force us to choose between loveliness and ugliness, but rather holds them in precisely the balance that exists in each of us. I have been writing poems rooted in my experience of sexual violation for at least twenty years; more than that, I have made who I am as a survivor central to who I am as a writer. I have never before asked myself, however, why I feel compelled to fashion something beautiful from an experience that would seem, on its face, to be beauty’s antithesis. Why, to put it another way, do I feel so compelled to love what I fear? That is a question worth exploring.

The statistics speak for themselves. Depending on the measure used, studies show that as many as 20–25% of men will experience some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Sadly, most of us in this group suffer in silence, victimized a second time by a culture that refuses to acknowledge the truth of what those who violated us did to us. I was nineteen when I first broke my own silence–at, of all places, the Vassar College Spring Semi-Formal (which is a story in itself, but that’s for another time). I was fortunate. My girlfriend’s response was respectful and compassionate, protective and nonjudgmental; she was angry for me and happy I trusted her enough to tell her; and all of that helped me find the courage to keep telling people, without which I don’t know what kind of person I’d be right now. For that, Pat Holtz, wherever she is, will have my gratitude for as long as I live.

To take that first, terrifying step of sharing with someone else something you thought was unspeakable, or that you were sure no one else in the world would understand or accept, is to step off a ledge without knowing where your foot will land. Will you end up standing on solid ground, affirmed, bolstered, saved, by the understanding you see in that other person’s eyes, or will you find yourself falling even more deeply into the isolating despair that whatever you’ve been carrying has forced upon you? For some people, that difference can mean–has already meant–the difference between life and death, which is another way of saying that this kind of telling is about the teller’s needs and no one else’s. It is an appropriately and necessarily selfish act, and, in that selfishness, it is the antithesis of art.

Whenever I think about this distinction between art and other forms of telling, I think about something the poet Khaled Mattawa wrote in his introduction to Without An Alphabet, Without a Face, his translation of the selected poems of the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef: “Poetry can only be an exploration of an ideology, not a means of expressing belief in it.” Art can certainly inspire belief, of course, as it can even inspire action based on belief, but once art starts calling for belief, or for action, it becomes, no matter how artfully it has been made or how moving an audience finds it, propaganda. It is no longer art.

Recently, I attended a poetry reading where a local, spoken-word poet shared some of his work. His performance was quite dramatic, but it actually made me feel imposed upon by, rather than invited into, the world of his words. Initially, I wrote him off as being, simply, a bad poet who used the emotive capacity of performance to make up for the shallowness of his language, but then I realized the problem went deeper than that. His work seemed to me entirely focused on getting his audience to feel not with him, but for him. Every word he spoke, every verbal inflection he gave, every dramatic pause he inserted–especially at the end, right before the last few words of each piece–was carefully crafted both to impress us with his vulnerability and to convince of the profundity of his willingness to be vulnerable in our presence. He was, in other words, propagandizing for himself.

When I first started trying to make art from my experience of sexual violence–I was in my mid-twenties at the time–I made the same mistakes that poet did. The lines I wrote were concerned less with exploring my experience than with making sure the world knew, in near-clinical detail, that I had, beyond any shadow of a doubt, been sexually violated. I saw those poems as a way to lay claim to the measure of the world’s attention I believed I was owed as a survivor, and so I them to a literary magazine that I thought would be sympathetic to their content. I can’t remember the exact words of the editor’s response, though I can still see the slightly cramped, cursive script in which it was written. Its intensity remains palpable to me. The gist of it was this: Call me what you will. Think I am a heartless son-of-a-bitch, if you need to. I don’t care. But never, under any circumstances, submit another poem to this magazine.

This was the mid–1980s, when people were just beginning to talk openly about the sexual abuse of girls. Almost no one was talking about the sexual abuse of boys, which meant that many of what we now understand to be very harmful myths and misconceptions were accepted as fact. More than once I heard it explained, by both lay people and recognized experts, that sexual abuse just didn’t happen to boys, or that, if it did, it happened so rarely that the only ones who really needed to pay attention to it were law enforcement and the professionals who dealt with the victims. What many of these same people said about the victims themselves was even more disturbing. Sexual violation, they suggested, left a boy damaged beyond repair, with a crippled psyche and a deformed sexuality that rendered him if not entirely unfit for “normal” society, then certainly someone you were better off giving a wide berth to if you could.

The editor who rejected my work, I told myself back then, almost certainly thought this way, and so I comforted myself that he deserved the shock and disgust my poems had made him feel. When I think about his rejection now, however, I am struck that he took the time to respond to the anger he imagined I would feel at being rejected. What’s more, he invited this anger, solicited it as the price he was willing to pay never to see my name in his slushpile again. I may be projecting backwards here, but in my memory, his response feels very much like what I probably would have told the spoken word poet I discussed above had he approached me about being featured in the reading series I run. When I think about it now, in other words, that editor probably rejected me for the same reason that I would reject the spoken-word poet: we each resented having someone else rub our face in his life for no other reason than that he believed had the right to do so.

I don’t want to deny that there is a time and place for that kind of confrontation–especially when the world has refused to notice that you exist–but even if submitting the poems I wrote back then did indeed change the way some of the editors who read them saw male survivors, the poems themselves failed as art. Precisely to the degree that they merely indulged the anger by which they were motivated, they became nothing more than rants, shutting readers out from the complexity of the experience into which a succcessful work of art would have invited them. To put it in Khaled Mattawa’s terms, the poems I wrote back then expressed a belief in the righteousness of my anger; they did not explore what it meant to be that angry.

The problems art solves are essentially formal ones, how to give shape in whichever medium the artist works to the concerns the artist wants the work to address. Through the years, one such problem I have had to face over and over and over again is the impossibility of loving myself in the present without loving the boy in me who was violated. For how do I love that boy without seeing beauty in him, even in the fact of his violation; and how do I make sure that seeing this beauty does not in the least excuse or justify or rationalize or exonerate the men who violated him? I make art from my experience of childhood sexual violence because making art is the only way I know to respond to these questions, because trying to answer them with a reasoned, logical argument makes me feel like I have something to prove, and I have nothing to prove. If I am to love myself, I must love that boy, all of him, even the things about him that scare me, even though the idea of loving him scares me. Logical reasoning will not make the complexity of that love comprehensible; but the complexity itself can be made accessible through art.

It may sound paradoxical to say that you need to love your fear to turn it into art, but I believe it’s true, and I also believe it’s true that bringing craft to bear on what you fear is part of that love, because craft is how you walk into the darkness of what you fear and give it structure, and sometimes that structure might in fact let in the light that will chase what you’re afraid of away, but sometimes building that structure is how you learn to love sitting in the dark, which is the only way you’ll ever know its beauty.

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Interview With Myself Edition

  1. Fatal Fat Shaming? How Weight Discrimination May Lead To Premature Death | CommonHealth I really wish they hadn’t started this article with an anecdote, which I suspect is going to cause people to argue about the anecdote while ignoring the study that the article is reporting on.
  2. Volunteering At An Abortion Clinic Made Me Lose Patience With The Abortion Debate
  3. Farewell to the Bigoted Bust | Laura J. Mixon The World Fantasy Award will no longer be shaped like a bust of H.P. Lovecraft. Looong past due. As you’d expect, some are apoplectic.
  4. The campaign to exonerate Tim Hunt for his sexist remarks in Seoul is built on myths, misinformation, and spin. Thanks to Mookie for this link.
  5. The Bernie Bros vs. the Hillarybots — The Cut
  6. A lot of folks have been arguing that this book cover image, from an anti-Clinton book but painted by a huge fan of Clinton, is misogynistic. I don’t agree.
  7. Sady Doyle (Not About Gender). Sady Doyle outlines reasons that have nothing to do with Clinton’s sex, for preferring Clinton over Sanders.
  8. A Sanders supporter who probably has a better netname than 1kidsentertainment, but I don’t see it anywhere, responds to Doyle.
  9. Sady Doyle (Not About Gender: 2 Fast 2 Gender) And Sady Doyle responds to 1kidsentertainment.
  10. On Supporting Bernie (But Feeling Like You’re Going to Vote for Hillary).
  11. I’m posting the above Hillary-vs-Bernie links because I think they’re all well-written and interesting reads, but not because I fully agree with any of them.
  12. Ryerson men’s issues group says students’ union shutting out male voices – The Globe and Mail Not allowing the men’s rights group is both appalling and censorious. But by saying that, I am not at all altering my opinion that Warren Farrell, who suggests that college shootings are caused by decisions like this one, is anything less than ludicrous.
  13. What’s Really Going On at Yale — Medium It’s not just about one Halloween email.
  14. Racism and Academic Freedom at Yale | The Academe Blog Like the previous link, this one adds a lot of useful context that’s missing in most of the discussions I’ve seen of goings-on at Yale, including some useful points about the position of “Master.” Like this author, I think that the (some) students who have said the Christakis’ should lose their Master positions are going too far. “Fire them” should not be the first-step response to speech we disagree with; the idea that people can and should be fired for their political speech is already far too common in the US, and on the whole is extraordinarily bad both for “free speech culture” and for workers.
  15. Reproducibility Crisis: The Plot Thickens – Neuroskeptic I think Ben posted this link in the previous open thread. Really worth at least clicking through for a quick skim and a look at the very impressive graph.
  16. John Oliver doing stand-up about Daily Show Slash Fic.
  17. Missouri Lawmaker Seeks To Block Students From Studying Restrictive Abortion Law. Instructive how little attention the mainstream media gives to right-wingers attempting to censor students, even though as censorship goes, we have far more to fear from the legislature than we do from student protesters.
  18. All Saints Day | Easily Distracted I agree with some but not all of this extremely well-written blog post, which is critical of the Yale protesters and of the way the concept of appropriation is (mis)used. There’s also some stuff worth reading in comments.
  19. When the campus PC police are conservative: why media ignored the free speech meltdown at William & Mary – Vox
  20. Support for a “No-Fly Zone” in Syria Should Be Disqualifying | The American Conservative Unfortunately, I think Rand Paul and (maybe?) Bernie Sanders are the only folks still in the race who oppose a no-fly zone, so oh well.
  21. University of Illinois Pays $875,000 to Settle Salaita Case | The Academe Blog I guess this is a censorship on campus story that has a happy ending? Although Salaita still doesn’t get his job back. $600,000 of that goes to Salaita, the rest to his attorneys.
  22. Hilarious anecdote about “The First Wives Club 2,” adolescence, and pay-per-view pornography.
  23. The Evolution of the Female Broadway Singing Voice (Part 1) | Musical Theatre Resources. I found this essay really interesting. Good to follow it up by listening to this video of examples of the same songs sung in original recordings and in recent revivals.
  24. Tell a science fiction story in six words. My entry: “Look, over there!” said my glasses.
  25. Flight of the Ruler by Gabrielle Bellot – Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics An excellent longform essay by a trans woman who has immigrated to the U.S. from the Commonwealth of Dominica.
  26. First Amendment v. Privacy? | The Academe Blog Unless I missed something, I agree with everything in this blog post about the professor’s conflict with a student journalist at the University of Missouri. 1) Professor Click was in the wrong (she has apologized), and 2) It’s dubious to claim a right of privacy for your very public tent city set up in the middle of a public square, which was obviously set up at least in part to make a public political point.
  27. University of Missouri police arrest suspect in social media death threats – The Washington Post To be kept in mind anytime someone suggests that students on campus don’t actually face racism.
  28. On Welders and Philosophers | The Academe Blog
  29. In Missouri, the Downfall of a Business-Minded President – The Chronicle of Higher Education Probably best not to read the comments, (he writes, thereby guaranteeing that some of the folks here will read the comments.)
  30. Nobody can figure out what this 1000 pound machine is – Business Insider
  31. Netflix’s New Series ‘Master of None’ Is Aziz Ansari’s Best Work Yet – The Atlantic I really, really enjoyed “Master of None” (despite Ansari’s character being my least favorite part of “Parks and Recreation); if you have Netflix, I recommend watching this.
  32. What Bernie Sanders misses about a $15 minimum wage – Vox
  33. Michigan’s Proposed Second-Trimester Abortion Ban Advances
  34. This Is So Gay: Only I Get to Decide Which Criticisms of Me Are Valid
  35. Full Text Of TPP Released: And It’s Really, Really Bad | Techdirt
  36. Beepy Boopy Veronica — Gentlemen! Let’s play a little game. I call it “Creep or Normal Guy?”
  37. Class Action Lawsuit Charges Missouri Town With Turning Residents Into Revenue Stream
  38. First Grader Plays A Power Ranger With Imaginary Bow and Arrow . . . Ohio School Suspends Him For Three Days | JONATHAN TURLEY
  39. Eighth Grader in Florida Disciplined For Giving Hug To Friend At School | JONATHAN TURLEY
  40. It turns out that those spiffy Old Spice commercials were made (primarily, not entirely) with practical effects:

Posted in Link farms | 73 Comments  

Interviewing Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

A few weeks ago, I discovered that it was a lot of fun to hand people some casual interview questions and see what they had to say. Sylvia Spruck Wrigley kindly responded to the query I circulated to some writers asking if they wanted to play along. She’s a writer currently spending a lot of her time in Wales, and was nominated for the short story Nebula award (along with me) in 2013.

By happy and unplanned coincidence, her new novella, Domnall and the Borrowed Child just came out through Tor’s new novella line. It’s her longest piece of published work to date.

Thanks again, Sylvia, for the interview!

1. The first thing that appears on your website is a quote from The Catcher in the Rye, ending with “I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Why that quote?

Self-promotion is hard. There’s this whole thing about even having a home page, that I have to tell the world about myself and hope that they care. I struggled with what to say, because I have this super confusing background and if I start, then it’s going to go on a bit. I can’t even say “I’m from [country]” or something simple like that. To be honest, I wrote a lot of long intros and then I just couldn’t face it. I remembered the start of The Catcher in the Rye; I’ve always loved Holden Caulfield’s voice. And he just really encapsulated how I felt about how to tackle this problem. I figure JD Salinger probably had the same problem, how to start this novel. So I decided to steal that introduction for my own page.


In the meantime, I’ve ended up putting a three-sentence bio on the website after all which does manage to give a brief version of where I am from…so I guess it’s rather silly now. A legacy quote.

2. Even today when being online makes exchange a lot easier, a lot of excellent British writers are unknown in America. Have you found it difficult to pass that cultural border?

Well, for writers starting out, I think a real issue is that writers who are not in the US miss out on a lot of events. The amount of education and business that happens at cons, or through introductions that happened at a con, is really a bit frightening. I don’t think you have to show up to break through but my own experience is that it does make things a lot easier, especially when it comes to making connections and finding out about invite-only anthologies. And you get this great support network of other writers — I always feel super motivated after attending a con. I know a few people who attend a couple of cons a year and then work off that energy.


This is why I feel really strongly that Worldcon should be held outside of the US every three years. Honestly, I think for something with “World” in the name, it’s not unreasonable to ask that the US limit itself to hosting 66% of the cons. I know not everyone can attend if it is held abroad. But when you compare that to the number of interesting authors who have *never* attended because it quite frankly is never local to them, it doesn’t seem that much to ask that the hosting locations are spread out a bit more.


As of right now, 7 of the 74 WorldCons have been held outside North America. So I’m really excited about Helsinki and hopeful for Dublin the year after that.

3. Your recent Nebula Award-nominated story “Alive, Alive Oh” is about home and displacement, a theme I also saw in Matthew Kressel’s nominated story from the same year, “The Sounds of Old Earth.” What about those themes appeals to you? Do you think they have particular traction at this moment in western culture?

I believe there’s a lot more movement between countries (and cultures) than there was even 50 years ago. And really, it comes down to a lot more travel and emigration in the West than there was. It’s not so rare any more to know someone who ended up moving to South America or Thailand or India. When I was a kid, it was this huge big thing that I went to school in two countries. Immigration involved people moving to the US, middle-class white Americans didn’t leave, or at least not more than a summer. As a result, home, displacement and belonging have become important themes that people are exploring. My son holds German and American passports but has never lived in either country, has never had that sense of belonging to a place (or even of a place belonging to him). I think when I was a kid in a similar situation, everyone in both countries was kind of amazed by it. Now, it’s not such a big deal.

4. What is the most irritating mistake about Wales and/or the Welsh that you see in American media?

Confusing Wales with England. I know that sounds silly but I get it all the time. Seriously, like I’ll say “I live in Wales,” and people will ask me what it’s like living in England, and whether I like it there. There’s this total disconnect.


I do like England, as it happens, but Wales is very different. Not just the accent, in attitude and economics and a million small things. There’s a lot that I love, like Welsh women are much more likely to say “You are being an idiot” to a man who is being an idiot than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There doesn’t seem to be this deep-rooted belief that women have to be nicer than men when it comes to idiots.

5. What work of yours should readers be looking for, and what do you have coming up?

My most recent publication is a reprint, Space Travel Loses Its Allure When You’ve Lost Your Moon Cup in the current issue of Flash Fiction Online. I love this story because menstruation in space is just really not a well-covered subject in science fiction. But this publication of it is super special because includes a rap song, which I commissioned off of Fiverr late one night after too much wine. Rsonic had an ad on Fiverr, saying he’d write a rap song about any subject. The guy was this black, good-looking American Marine combat veteran and I thought he was going to tell me to go to hell when I showed him the story. He totally rose to the challenge and wrote a rap song without flinching. Best five dollars I’ve ever spent.


I’m also super excited about what’s coming up. Domnall and the Borrowed Child is a traditional fairy tale based in Scotland coming out on the 10th of November as a part of’s new novella imprint. This is my first longer publication and it’s part of a story I’ve been working on for ten years. The audio version is amazing – Tor have chosen a narrator with a great mid-atlantic accent. He grew up in Ireland and England but spent his adult life in the US, so I spent my first listen wondering where’s he from? before finally realising that he probably sounds a lot like me. He calls it hybrid, which sounds a lot nicer than “all over the place”.

Source: Rachel Swirsky’s blog

Posted in Interviews, Mandolin | Tagged | 2 Comments