Earlier this week, regarding Gaiman Fail, my friend Cathy & I had a conversation about the aura of worship that surrounds certain male writers like Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, and - let's be honest - male writers in fandom. My issue is not, as a whole, with each of these male writers themselves, though all of the ones mentioned above have done problematic things and manifested privilege, just like everyone else. My issue is with what I have come to call the Cult of Awesome that forms around these people. How many times during the Amanda Palmer thing did you hear people say, "But Neil Gaiman is still an awesome guy, he just has horrible taste in women." (More on the Adam=good/Eve=slutwhoredevil thing in a sec.) And how many times this week during, uh, CemeteryFail/Gaiman Fail have you heard, "But Neil Gaiman is still an awesome guy, he's just made a mistake like we all do!"
Certain male writers, and to some extent certain actors (NPH, Michael Cera, Nathan Filion, Will Wheaton), who tap into a certain level of nerdiness, attract a cult following that seems to manifest in a celebration of said Awesome Guy's AWESOME GUYNESS!!!!!!
There are a bunch of obvious problems with this.
1. It's only applicable to the guys. Look for an equal level of that kind of Cult of Awesome worship for any female writer or actress who's doing equivalent things, and it just isn't there. It doesn't exist.
2. No guy can be awesome all the time. How often this week have you heard people talking about how crushed, heartbroken, disappointed, devastated, they are that Neil has let them down? how many times this week have you seen people still struggling so hard to find him Awesome? saying he's still "basically a good guy?" Well, okay, fine, of course he is. The point is that the Cult of Awesome seems to have, initially, sprung up from nowhere at all other than by virtue of his being a decent guy and a talented writer.
Which brings me to #3. The Cult of Awesome treats the concept of a Nice Guy as something ABOVE AVERAGE AND EXCEPTIONAL. Yes, there is a stereotype that nice guys finish last in our society that the Cult of Awesome might, at first glance, appear to subvert. But that assumes that all nice guys are in opposition to a universal masculine default, which includes not-nice traits like dominance, power, violence, and exercise of privilege. And I am totally okay with nerd culture setting itself up in opposition to those traits, but what I'm not okay with, as a woman, is the idea that all of these men are considered to be exceptional and worship-worthy, just for being nice.
Because, inevitably, when Neil makes a racist statement or Joss makes a racist tv show, we are left with nothing to fall back on: these nice guys have failed us--the Cult of Awesome has propped up their niceness, and in failing to be Nice, they have actively harmed us as much as the bad guys we thought they were the antithesis of. The Cult of Awesome makes it that much harder to reach an equilibrium for men to be rated as DECENT HUMAN BEINGS because, you know, it's what they should be by default. It enables my mom to tell me she thinks it's harder for men to show affection to each other because men are always hard, always violent. It enables books like Hush, Hush to exist because they portray heroes whose default behavior is "violent power-wielding asshole" because that people see that as realistic. If it weren't, men like Neil and Joss would not be worshiped and regarded so highly just for being kind of cool and nice most of the time.
For another extreme example of this mentality, see Roman Polanski -- where "he was a rapist that one time but he's okay now!" is an acceptable defense of his behavior because the default for male standards of behavior are SO LOW that Polanski is seen by large segments of society as just sort of your run-of-the-mill pervert. While under far less sinister conditions, for committing the crime of "lewdness," a Nevada woman is sentenced to life imprisionment, aka a sentence usually handed out for MURDER. What the fuck. Decent behavior for men is so unattainable that when men actually attain it, they're revered and glorified; by the same token women are seen as so far above men morally that when they fail to be moral they are shamed and humiliated. Amanda/Neil? Perfect example. She is reviled (and rightly, i think) despite her success, despite having had many strong, capable, empowering moments as a woman writing about her experience of womanhood in the past;
while people are still saying, about Neil, with all his equivalent successes, "Well, but he's still basically a good guy." His Cult of Awesome survives intact.
Sirayn asked me to comment on John C. Wright's latest fail (warning for all kinds of gender/trans/feminist fail), and when i asked who he was, she told me he was "a multi-published Nebula finalist SF author with Tor." And I thought, gee, what a surprise, another random asshole on the internet turns out to be a highly decorated white male SFF author. It's not the genre's fault that when the general standard of male behavior often defaults to "asshole," it's going to attract a lot of, well, assholes. But just as this post about Hugo Awards & female nominees points out, it's not *just* that problematic voices exist in SFF, but that they are propped up and nurtured and encouraged by SFF's regressive, internalized patriarchy. Yes, the marginalized voices are growing and becoming heard, and I am probably about 40 years late to the party of people going "excuse me, what about us." But basically, I don't need to, or want to, associate with this part of the internet writing community except as it overlaps fandom and YA. It doesn't feel safe for me. At first it wasn't for me; it just wasn't something I understood.
But now, even though I feel much closer to liking/enjoying/writing fantasy tropes, I feel a kneejerk reaction of discomfort whenever I engage with or read about the SFF crowd. Because for better or worse, I associate the SFF community with propping up things that are awful: Orson Scott Card's rampant homophobia. Harlan Ellison's groping Connie Wallis. Awful, horrible, appalling W.S. being excused for being awful and horrible because he's much nicer in person, really. "How Much Is That Geisha In The Window?" and Joss's increasingly tarnished cult worship. RaceFail, RaceFail, RaceFail, and then, at the end of the long rotten year, RaceFail instigators being nominated for Hugos. It's all these things, and the fact that every time I click on a post by a male sci-fi writer, it's to feel like I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, that it may be a John C Wright or a Sh**terly who is just dumping all over me, over critics of their Fail, over my community, culture, whatever. And that's okay, because they don't need me to validate their awfulness. They don't need me to respond to them or interact with them in any way, because they're being propped up by a giant sci-fi tradition that allows them to speak. And/or by their Cult of Awesome. Maybe Cult of Veneration, for the older Male Nerds like Card and Ellison.
There are people out there working to reclaim sci-fi/fantasy and make it a more diverse sandbox. And I support that fully. But I don't think I, personally, can be one of those people. The skeeviness outweighs the benefits for me. I would much rather play in the YA sandbox, where even when the fail is rampant, I know that there are hundreds of progressive female voices working to change things, and they are actively having an influence in the YA publishing/blogging community. I don't feel that with Sci-fi. It's why I shy away. It's why I veer more towards YA, even though I sometimes feel like it's not the *best* fit for me, subject-wise. It's the best fit for me, community-wise. And I really don't feel like contributing to the Cult of Awesome on the SFF side of things.
I'm sure it will live on without me.
you can also read the discussion at LJ.
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