December 18, 2011
So, I have this odd hobby of buying books to read for pleasure that for the most part are relegated to the overpriced ghetto of "textbooks". I like literary criticism. I like history. I like books published before 1980. So sue me.
One of my favorite forays is into second wave feminist science fiction from the mid-seventies to the mid-1980's. Sure, there are parts that are reactionary, unreasonable, dire, dystopian, utopian, and/or "spiritual", and most of it is decidedly Caucasian in flavor, but that's a consequence of the genre. However, the payoff can be exemplified in the following words:
I live between two worlds. Half the time I like doing housework, I care a lot about how I look, I warm up to men and flirt beautifully (I mean I really admire them, though I'd die before I took the initiative; that's men's business), I don't press my point in conversation, and I enjoy cooking. I like to do things for other people, especially male people. I sleep well, wake up on the dot, and don't dream. There's only one thing wrong with me:I'm frigid.In my other incarnation I live out such a plethora of conflict you wouldn't think that I'd survive, would you, but I do; I wake up enraged, go to sleep in numbed despair, face what I know perfectly well is condescension and abstract contempt, get into quarrels, shout, fret about people I don't even know, live as if I were the only woman in the world trying to buck it all, work like a pig, strew my whole apartment with notes, articles, manuscripts, books, get frowsty, don't care, become stridently contentious, sometimes laugh and weep within five minutes together out of pure frustration. It takes me two hours to get to sleep and an hour to wake up. I dream at my desk. I dream all over the place. I'm very badly dressed.But O how I relish my victuals! And O how I fuck!*
Holy shizz. I dunno about you, but I've got a boner. And that boner's name is Awesome. Because once a Riot Grrl, always a Riot Grrl. There is something incredibly empowering about being able to house jarring contradictions in one's own soul, and in my humble opinion that is where all creative force comes from. Art is the flour produced from between every rock and hard place in my life.
And when I think of myself back when I was say, fourteen or fifteen, with my garishly colored bobbed hair, powdered lips, Frederick's of Hollywood "dresses" and yes!-combat boots, clumsily hand-sewing bits of lacy froth and pieces of t-shirts, whole days where I refused to speak in anything except song lyrics, and penchant for public urination, I was living art.
I would direct my pubescent kleptomaniac minions to shoplift glitter crayons from Rite-Aid in order to grafitti giant glittered genitals on the back side of the same damn Rite-Aid. I would sneak out of my house to go drinking in a ditch behind a public park with boys at two AM with my 8-inch kitchen knife laid carefully alongside my leg in order to discourage any ideas that I was in any way sexually available (because what the hell did I know?). I got ejected from a public bus for scream-singing "Under Pressure" with my friend Becky(I was always Freddie Mercury on account of my overbite). I stomped the life out of inch-long cucarachas in the Los Angeles gutters with every step in time with the bassline of the Cure's "Fascination Street".
I took my ideas of behaving badly very seriously. Was I nuts? Of course I was. Was I amaaazing? No doy.
Reading those lines invoked the part of me that will always be that girl, and reminded me how glad I am that she still feeds me. She's there when I need her. And she always will be.
*For the insatiably curious burdened with a surplus twenty dollars, the source is the oddly-named The Female Man by Joanna Russ.
December 16, 2011
As a fan of epic fantasy novels and series, one becomes somewhat inured to the sausagefest that is nearly definitive of the genre. Characters are male by default; by which I mean "a farmer", "a soldier", "a traveller", "a blacksmith", "an apprentice"-all stock characters in any epic fantasy- are by default male unless otherwise specified, and these exceptional women are always a Big Deal, by which I mean their femaleness bears importance or is a catalyst of some sort to the story. Inversely, other stock characters like "a whore", "a tavern wench", "a innkeeper's progeny", or "a milkmaid" are default female unless explicitly stated otherwise, and are also tools to further the plot or character development of a male character unless explicitly stated otherwise. In this adventure, I plan to take a look at the treatment of male and female characters in various fantasy series that I have experienced, and explore the incredibly diverse dimensions possible for gender in the human imagination through the vehicle of genre fiction. And I'm not talking Rowling or Tolkien; I'm going for the shameless, basement-dwelling, throat-bearded, myopic fiction that spawns stereotypes like few other genres are capable of.
One of the most enjoyable facets of epic fantasy for me as a reader is the immersion into an entirely created social system. An author in this genre is free to create any sort of social system that takes their fancy, and I've come across customs of slightly silly created cultures that include everything from governments based on institutionalized BDSM to those based on the favoritism of magical telepathic horsies, modesty habits from veiled males to hand-burkas, and family systems that range from medieval chattel exchanges to polyandrous group marriages. I must admit that a sticking point that infringes on my enjoyment nearly every time is that in a medium that allows for so much freedom, so many authors choose to relegate female characters to the subordinate/exceptional model of women in epic fantasy. And I cannot emphasize enough that the rape-and-revenge trope of the wronged/damaged/outraged woman who decides to pick up a sword or a spellbook and wreak some havoc of her own hasn't progressed any since the days of Conan the Barbarian, and is as worn out as a 1950's elastic menstrual belt complete with pube-plucking metal clips.