Thursday, May 31, 2007

The United States Supreme Court strikes again

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court savaged employees’ rights to sue their employers for pay discrimination. In a nutshell, employees who discover that their employers have been unlawfully discriminating against them cannot bring suit unless they do it within 180 days of its first occurrence—regardless of when the disparity became known to the employee. The plaintiff in the case that the Court heard, Lilly M. Ledbetter, was the only woman manager among sixteen at a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama. Linda Greenhouse writes (in yesterday’s New York Times): “Ms. Ledbetter's salary was initially the same as that of her male colleagues. But over time, as she received smaller raises, a substantial disparity grew. By the time she brought suit in 1998, her salary fell short by as much as 40 percent; she was making $3,727 a month, while the lowest-paid man was making $4,286.” (Read Greenhouse’s account here.)

Greenhouse notes: “As with an abortion ruling last month, this decision showed the impact of Justice Alito's presence on the court. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor whom he succeeded, would almost certainly have voted the other way, bringing the opposite outcome.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (whose “vigorous dissenting” opinion was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, and David H. Souter) argued that

the majority opinion "overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination." She said that given the secrecy in most workplaces about salaries, many employees would have no idea within 180 days that they had received a lower raise than others.

An initial disparity, even if known to the employee, might be small, Justice Ginsburg said, leading an employee, particularly a woman or a member of a minority group "trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment" to avoid "making waves." Justice Ginsburg noted that even a small differential "will expand exponentially over an employee's working life if raises are set as a percentage of prior pay."

Apparently Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton has said she intends to propose legislation to address this evisceration of Title VII protections. But we shall see.

Romance of the Revolution panel-- a few links

I'm utterly miserable today with the cold I brought home from WisCon. But I have been out looking for WisCon reports, which are beginning to be posted. For those interested in reading more about the Romance of the Revolution panel (about which I posted yesterday), I've come across a partial transcript by Laura Quilter as well as a couple of reports on it (with discussion so far mostly by people who didn't attend it themselves):

Laura Quilter's transcript can be found on the Feminist SF Wiki

Ocyeter's report can be found on her Live Journal

Melymbrosia discusses the panel in the comments to a post on WisCon

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A post-WisCon report

I’d (foolishly) hoped I’d be able to blog from WisCon, but I lacked not only a single spare moment in which to write about my thought and experiences there, I also found it impossible to process most of it. (The exceptions, I think, were the occasional one-on-one conversations, which are a special pleasure of WisCon.) In situations like this one, where I’m being bombarded multifarious stimuli, I often seem unable to fully take in what is happening in the moment it happens. I usually spend the travel day and the first few days home reviewing, remembering, and mulling over it all. Yesterday was my travel day, but rather than spending it sifting through the jumble of fresh memories crowding my mind, I mostly tried to catch up on my email. This morning I woke with a sore throat and running nose and the realization that I had a lot to do before leaving town again, on Sunday, to attend the Rio Hondo Writers Workshop. I did, though, spend some time yesterday (in the air over Montana and Idaho) thinking about “Romance of the Revolution,” on which I sat as a panelist. I’d like to talk a bit about that here, but before I do, I’d like to take note of a piece I read online this morning that’s highly relevant to the discussion that did and did not take place at that panel.

Ashifa Kassam has a piece titled “South Americans Wage Battle Against Economic World Order: Continent’s People Optimistically Continue Fight Largely Abandoned by Western Activists” that was originally published on the CBC News site and is reprinted on I want to a few bits from it:

Across South America rages the battle the rest of the world forgot.

It’s a battle for a change in the way that the world does economics. Its symptoms mark the beautiful cities of the continent: In Quito, Ecuadorians protest daily against a proposed free-trade agreement with the United States, while Colombians graffiti their cities’ walls with slogans decrying privatization.

In La Paz, roads are blocked daily by Bolivians with strong opinions on foreign-owned oil companies. In Buenos Aires, factory workers flaunt a world without bosses as one factory after another is turned into a co-operative.

Their battle isn’t confined to the streets. It’s manifested itself in the politics of South America, as left-leaning leaders continue to dominate and be broadly supported.

And, since she’s writing for North Americans, Kassam notes:

Two years after their first appearance in Seattle, the same groups brought down Quebec City. They stunned the meeting of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas with the largest protests Canada has ever seen.

From their movement stemmed the World Social Forum, an annual conference where the people behind the movement gather to plan international campaigns, formulate strategies and articulate their issues.

But while a few Western activists continue to be involved in the movement, the bulk of them have moved on. The recent World Economic Forum in Hong Kong was protested by people from Korea, India and Brazil, but Western protesters were far and few between.

South Americans are well aware that they have lost many of their allies in battle. Far from dampening their motivation, the loss has made them more adamant in their struggle. They have turned to new strategies, from political leaders to natural resources, to accomplish the changes they want to see in the world.

The specific instances mentioned above (and in the article) merely scratch the surface. The southern portion of the Western Hemisphere is seething with activist-driven changenot “revolt” as we commonly think of it, but sustained, determined movement pushing back hard against “late” (or “global”) “postmodern” capitalism.

Now, to the panel:

In authors ranging from Heinlein to Macleod, Spinrad to Cordwainer Smith, the revolution is glorified -- sometimes a violent one, sometimes (but far more rarely) a peaceful one. How do we avoid making the same errors of glorifying violence and hero worship when coming at things from a revolutionary perspective in fiction? (Some people may not find these to be errors -- they're welcome to come discuss that POV too. ;)) Lyn Paleo, Chris Nakashima-Brown, L. Timmel Duchamp, M: Paul Kincaid

Perhaps I ought to begin by saying, for those who have never attended such discussions, that they tend to be passionate and even urgent rather than detached, academic (in the sense of being without personal consequence to the discussants). For certain readers, science fiction of political change (where the political change is not merely one rather trivial aspect of the world-building that is not particularly well thought out, which is common in run-of-the-mill space opera, for instance, or in hard sf in which the author does not consider political, economic, and social systems of real extrapolative importance) is not simply entertainment, but rather an emotionally and intellectually engaging way to think through current realities and future possibilities: a way, in fact, to affirm that what is is not what must be. Late capitalism in general and the post-Reagan US political regime in particular have promulgated the belief that what we have nowthe commodification of every aspect of our lives, the privatization of every social and governmental function, the insistence that every choice and decision should be determined by “market forces” regardless of the dehumanization and degradation that necessarily follows when human life itself is openly subordinated to the entitlement of the wealthy to make every buck there is to be madeis the only choice since nothing else, according to the dominant voices in US society, “works.” (Shall we ask the people driven out of New Orleans how well privatization and market forces have “worked” for them? Or the millions of USians who have been personally bankrupted and rendered homeless when a major illness struck a family member?) The powerful southern hemisphere drive to challenge the doxa that most people in the United States believe (rather despairingly, I believe) to be written in stone should make it obvious that what is need not be, but few people have any idea of these challenges and when they do are inclined to follow the mainstream media’s lead in saying it won’tor can’tlast because the fall of the Soviet Empire “proved” once and for all that nothing works but Reaganesque versions of capitalism. In any case, although I heard mention of Hugo Chavez in various contexts around the con, I found no consciousness of the many concrete examples of truly powerful grassroots activism, much of it feminist in character and intent, flourishing in the southern hemisphere. (Perhaps we need a panel devoted entirely to that subject in next year’s programming? Anyone willing to take it on?)

Rather than try to reconstruct the panel’s hour and fifteen minutes of discussion (which I don’t think I could do, since I didn’t take notes or record it), I want to focus on what I see as three critical nodes around which much of the discussion knotted up or, conversely, flowed (in order to go around and skirt it).

My own particular interest was in talking about revolution not as a discrete moment of political changewhich is usually how we use the word “revolution”but as a process to be figured out and learned as we go. (This idea lies at the heart of the Marq’ssan Cycle, after all.) Revolution often means regime change more than anything else (though obviously it doesn’t always mean just that), and accomplishing getting from here (where we are now) to there (a place in which every human being can flourish) requires change on the individual level, which is something that doesn’t happen with mere regime change. Paul remarked that if I was talking about “permanent revolution,” that Maoists had already tried that. I then attempted to differentiate my idea of a long, learning process of change that is continuous from that of the Cultural Revolution (though one that has room for self-critical thinking“self-criticism” that is not used as a hammer), and Paul suggested that a better word for what I’m talking about might be “evolution.” On reflection, although I like the idea of harnessing the notion of humans adapting themselves until finally learning to live well together, I think that most people tend to infuse their understanding of “evolution” with an inherent sense of teleology, which is something I strongly believe we must resist when thinking about how we can make our world. And for those who dissociate the word “evolution” from Darwin’s use of it, “evolution” simply denotes a gradual rather than radical change, and that’s not at all what I’m talking about, either. The perception of people engaged in the kind of process I’m thinking of couldn’t possibly perceive it as gradual or “incremental” (another adjective used when we discussed this, and which I rejected on the spot).

It was in the course of discussing rates of change that one of the most unsettling moments of the discussion occurred. I’m not quite sure what led up to it, but I believe it originated in a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s proposal that we totally reinvent government every twenty years* because, Jefferson insisted, “this world belongs, solely, to the present generation.” Here’s Gore Vidal, elaborating what Jefferson had in mind:

[E]very ten years or so, new laws should be promulgated at a constitutional convention. A grown man, he noted in his best biblical parable style, should not be forced to wear a boy’s jacket. Gore Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson

Chris remarked that the most effective way to change the way people think is the Paul Pot methodkilling every adult in sight and starting with a blank slate with the children remaining. An awful silence descended on the room in the wake of this remark. I remember thinking to myself, he’s probably being ironic, but I don’t get in what way precisely. Is he suggesting that the idea of changing how we think is tantamount to massacring millions and brainwashing the remainder and therefore critiquing the entire idea of changing how people think and interact and thus is arguing in favor of changing only the forms in which we are governed? Or is this an expression of despair and hopelessness, based on the belief that humans are immutably awful? Or is this supposed to be funny? Or can it be that there’s something I’m not getting because it’s too subtle for my feeble feminist brain? After a beat, Lyn turned to him and said, “I hope you’re joking.” I don’t exactly recall his response, but whatever it is, it didn’t clarify my confusion over what it was he was actually intending to convey by that remark. I still don’t know. And I have no idea what anyone else was thinking, because after a moment the discussion flowed on around it as an object standing in its way. Although such conversational objects must sometimes be gone around to keep from sidetracking the discussion, it seems to me in retrospect that attention to the remark would not have been a sidetrack at all and might have taken us to places we needed to go. Chris, if you are reading this, I would appreciate your explaining exactly what (if anything) you intended by the remark.

Another uncomfortable (and for me unclarified) area opened up when Paul, talking about revolution in colonialist and post-colonialist contexts from his educated British perspective, made the firm assertion that revolutions succeed only when rulers are weak or allow the revolutions to succeed because they don’t have the will or heart to crush them. He casually tossed out the example of the American Revolution (which rather bemused me, partly because I thought that this view would be a surprising one to most Americans) and then, in more detail, the revolution on the Indian subcontinent led by Gandhi and others, implying that the British would still be running India if the US hadn’t pulled Britain’s loans after World War II. As the discussion continued, I spent the next five minutes trying to decide what I thought of the idea, then had to put it aside to get back into the discussion.

It often happens that chasms of comprehension open up in conversations I have with certain (though not all) Brits, usually, I think, where on one side the received educated opinion and perspective is so taken for granted and on the other side that same opinion and perspective is so foreign and new that I’m thrown off balance and need time to find my footing, at least partly because where an opinion and perspective is received, it carried far-reaching implications and contains layers and layers of underlying assumptions that are largely invisible and therefore impenetrable to the outsider. Surely, I thought, he doesn’t mean to dismiss all successful revolutions as coming about simply because the oppressors let it?

The first counterexample that popped into my head was Viet Nam. The French (first) and then the United States were neither weak nor faint-hearted. The US never pulled its punches and was quite willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of its youth. (The CIA’s ruthless, sweeping attacks against the civilian population as well as the constant aerial bombing were carried out on a horrifyingly grand scale that argues anything but “unwillingness” to do everything they could to destroy the Vietnamese revolution: the only thing they didn’t try was nuclear warfare.) Other instances come into my mind. Paul mentioned South Africa. Yes, the apartheid regime “gave up,” but that was because it had become too costly. If that isn’t a definition of being defeated, I don’t know what is. The revolution entailed expenditures on both sides: the opposition to the apartheid regime paid the price in lives and blood, the regime paid the price in lost income, prestige, and moral ease. What I’d like to ask now, Paul, is this: in what sense did the apartheid regime allow its opponents to win? The opposition to that regime finally made it impossible for them to preserve the rule and economy and set of values that they were fighting to uphold. If there had been no sustained, utterly determined opposition, the apartheid regime would still be in place. If the regime was “weak” at the end, that was because their opposition weakened them. If the US cannot rule Iraq and could not rule Viet Nam, it’s not because the US is weak but because the opposition is sustained.

Is this a matter of mere semantics? No. It’s a matter of perceiving agency when subalterns are exercising it.

*I have an essay forthcoming this summer in Margaret Grebowicz, ed., Sci-fi in the Mind’s Eye exploring how sf writers might use Jefferson’s proposal to create numerous very different sorts of stories.

I’ve much more to say about WisCon (and of course there much more that could be said about the “Romance of the Revolution” panel) and hope to do soproviding I can find time to write about it before the weekend. In the meantime, I hope other members of this blog will post on their WisCon experiences as well. And to everyone else: I welcome comments and guest posts.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Some Thoughts About Women and War

Carolyn Ives Gilman

Recently I have found myself in an odd situation for a person descended from a long line of Quaker pacifists: I have been earning my living doing military history. I hope you will not stop reading when I say that I find it fascinating.

It is not that I have become a militarist. I don’t know why people expect military history to be celebratory. The best of it isn’t. You find that, as in other fields of history, the apologists and cheerleaders are the ones with the least personal experience and the least sophisticated grasp of what they are talking about. I feel no obligation to think war is an acceptable solution in order to study it; in fact, its seems to me rather urgent that people who would like to prevent wars ought to study them. If we leave the study of conflict to militarists, we’re never going to have a three-dimensional understanding of how we get into, and out of, it.

I do find that the traditional study of war suffers from an oddly narrow focus that limits the explanations it can offer. It tends to break down along gender lines: the traditional roles of men (combat, strategic planning, coordination and command, etc.) are defined as war. The traditional roles of women (food production and preparation, child bearing and rearing, home and family maintenance) are not war. Women are, almost by definition, civilians—even in situations such as occupation, where their lives are every bit as disrupted (or ended) as the men’s.

This is a peculiar state of affairs. War, it seems obvious to me, is a dysfunction—or a response to a dysfunction—of whole societies. It is a group activity aimed at achieving a group goal. It wouldn’t happen if half the population weren’t acquiescing (at the least) or participating (at the most).

And yet, women often do their acquiescing and participating in fundamentally different ways than we are used to talking about and factoring into our explanations. They fight, as it were, on different battlefields—so different that the noise and confusion of male combat makes them invisible.

Let me give an example from the war I am currently studying: the 40-year-long resistance of the Indian tribes of the Ohio Valley to the invasion of Euro-Americans, which lasted approximately 1754 to 1794. This is not taught as a single war in our history books. It is classified as four different wars, two of them European (the French and Indian War and the American Revolution), and two of them Indian (Pontiac’s War and the Indian Wars of the 1790s). But from the Indian point of view, it was one long war against a parade of colonial powers.

Now, this war is not as remote from our experience as it might seem. In fact, I am continually struck with how modern the story feels. Except on rare occasions, it was not a conventional European war where armies faced each other in massed ranks. It was, in today’s terminology, an asymmetrical conflict where European military powers (I include the United States) faced a tribal society that used the tactics of a guerilla insurgency. There was no battle line that separated combatants from civilians. Soldiers on patrol and innocent civilians faced unremitting danger of senseless, anonymous death. Armies would march into Indian towns only to find the combatants vanished into the population. They would level the towns anyway, to deprive the enemy of its base of operations, only to have the fighters reappear more implacable and deadly than ever. Atrocities proliferated on both sides. Passions became so heated that Thomas Jefferson himself denied legal and human rights to British prisoners of war because they were suspected of collaboration with the Indians. It was ugly, deadly, and essentially impossible to stop. It was a traumatic formative experience for the United States—one we have almost completely erased from our collective memory.

In the 18th century, women were not generally expected to play an active part in war, but in this case they did, on both sides. There are many stories about women in what can only be called combat—those tough Kentucky women who seized their husbands’ shotguns to repel intruders, or lit fires under Indian attackers trying to shimmy down the chimney (a story repeated so often, with so many different names and locations attached, that it just about accounts for all the smoked moccasins in museum collections). At one dramatic moment in the siege of Boonesborough, the women of the fort sallied out to fetch water, so bravely defying death that the Shawnee commander, Blackfish, gallantly allowed them to complete their errand unharmed.

But such moments were the exception. The vast majority of their time, women spent fighting in far subtler ways. I am particularly interested in the Indian women who were attempting to keep life going in the midst of the carnage. Unlike the Kentucky women, they had not chosen this way of life; it was forced on them. They helped defend their homeland in a way so unlike Euro-American war strategies that it bears study. They fought by adopting the enemy.

Adoption was an old and integral part of Indian warfare, practiced on enemy tribes long before it was applied to Europeans. The most formal version of it happened to prisoners, both male and female, who surrendered to an Indian war party. The many surviving descriptions follow a general pattern. After their defeat, a group of prisoners would be culled; some would be executed on the spot, some chosen for captivity. The survivors, terrorized by the sight of their companions’ deaths, were treated with brutality—beaten, bound, humiliated. They were often stripped of their old clothes and given Indian garb instead, then forced to make a long, disorienting journey on foot through forests, expecting death by torture at the end. The ordeal dehumanized them, severed them from their old identities, stripped them of mental defenses and loyalties, reduced them to such desperation that the only emotion left to them was the bare instinct for survival.

What happened when they arrived at the Indian village varied some by tribe and circumstance. Among the Shawnee, a prisoner’s fate was traditionally determined by women’s organizations and individual women. One society of older women took the role of condemning prisoners to death. Other women might exercise a ritual privilege to intervene on behalf of a prisoner. (This is evidently what happened when John Smith was rescued by Pocahontas. There was nothing romantic about it; she was acting out her traditional role in the community by asserting power over a prisoner.) People who had suffered a recent death in the family could demand a revenge killing in compensation. But they might also choose one of the prisoners to adopt in place of their deceased relative. Because these last were the captives who survived to write about it, we know most about them.

The adopted captive experienced a sudden change in status. He or she was now treated with great kindness—literally, as a member of the family. Captives were not chosen for a resemblance to the dead family member; in one instance, a child took the place of a grandfather. Nevertheless, they were regarded quite literally as the dead person come back to life, and were treated exactly as that loved one would have been. Among other things, after a little while their freedoHem was not restricted in any way. They could walk away at any time.

And yet, remarkably few did. Whether it was Stockholm Syndrome or a genuine preference for their new life within the close-knit Indian community, Euro-Americans settled in happily to their new lives and often declined to be “rescued” when conquering armies demanded their release. They forgot their original languages, married, fought in defense of their new Indian families, and became culturally indistinguishable from Indians. The fact of their white skin or red hair made not the slightest difference within the Indian community, since Native Americans did not (until taught it by Euro-Americans) have any concept of race as determining identity. A person was Indian if he or she spoke, acted, and believed like an Indian, regardless of appearance or blood quantum.

It was far different in Euro-American society. The phenomenon of adoption was widely recognized and written about in colonial America, and it struck terror into the colonists. The popular explanation was that there was something so alluring, so addicting, about Indian life that once people had been converted to it, they were lost forever. The most feared and reviled people on the frontier were the “white Indians,” people like the Girty brothers or William Wells, who though racially white were culturally Indian. Intellectuals opined about what a thin veneer “civilization” was, since civilized people were susceptable to degenerate into savagery, but savages rarely made the opposite transition. Journalists warned western settlers always to be on their guard—to avoid eating the meat of wild animals, or living by hunting, since these might cause the degeneration to set in. As for going to live with the Indians, they didn’t call it “captivity,” they called it “captivation.” It was as if the Indians could cast a magical spell on people, and make them want to be Indian.

So adoption was an extremely effective war strategy for the Indians. It terrorized the enemy by challenging their assumption of superiority and making them doubt their own identity. It converted enemy combatants into new recruits, often extremely useful ones. It replenished a population thinned by war. It was also an effective mechanism for Indian families to cope with grief, since it focused emotions of love and loss on a new object, short-circuiting antisocial anger. By pretending that a loved one had come back, Indian women sometimes made it happen. One captive, John Tanner, remained so loyal to his adoptive mother that he supported her in old age, while her good-for-nothing biological son abandoned her.

Another strategy Indian women had for co-opting the enemy was marriage. Euro-American traders, soldiers, missionaries, and others who spent time in the Indian community came under intense pressure to marry. Often a man yielded as a mere temporary expedient, then later found himself so emotionally committed to the mother of his children that he could not break free. His loyalties were altered, and he became as if adopted. As with captives, he was often regarded with suspicion and contempt by Euro-Americans—“squaw man,” they called him.

Thus Indian women deployed love as a war strategy. It is a truism that we become what we fight, but these women sped the process along, actively converting enemies into husbands and sons, tampering with their loyalties. It was still slow and incremental, but it eventually worked on the French and the Spanish, and it would have worked on the Americans, as well—if it hadn’t been for a counter-weapon American women deployed: sheer fertility. While Indian women had learned how to keep the population stable so as not to overstress resources, American women were having families of thirteen or sixteen children, busily overwhelming the Indians with sheer numbers. The American war against the Indians was not won on the battlefield; in twenty years of fighting only Anthony Wayne managed to win a battle. The war was won by demographics. That is, by women making babies.

As a matter of fact, if you think on a time scale of centuries, I am not so certain the Americans have won. Who do you think those immigrants are, flooding across our southern border, changing the composition of our culture? They are the descendants of Indian women who married Spanish men. We invaded the Indians, and now they are returning the compliment. There is something marvelously just about it.

I worked some of these ideas about war into my last science fiction story, called “Okanoggan Falls” (F&SF, August 2006). I have described this as a story about how women make war. The scenario is an alien-invasion story where the aliens have already conquered, and are now occupying, Earth. The aliens are, of course, metaphorical. Like human occupiers, they are susceptable to assimilation; but in this case they are vulnerable to physical, as well as cultural and psychological, metamorphosis. Like Americans on the frontier, they take extraordinary precautions to prevent this. But in the story a human woman unsuspectingly thwarts an alien’s defenses, and transforms him. In the end, the humans do not win in any conventional sense; but one alien has become human, and the implication is that, one by one over the centuries, the rest will follow. In the end, the women will win.

Although the story was selected for two Best of the Year anthologies, the reviewers generally seemed a little baffled by it. The most thoughtful review, by David Truesdale, found the story dissatisfying because of the ambiguity over whether the humans had triumphed. There was no revolt, not even a conspiracy.
So what was really gained, and what lost? Earthlings are still conquered
on a global level. Okanoggan Falls and its surrounding towns will
still be leveled, and Captain Groton is to be court martialed, his career
ruined. So it looks like the only good to come of this is that Susan
Abernathy feels good about what she had achieved. (
I found that I disagreed with him not so much about the story, which he read correctly, as about what constitutes victory.

Conventionally, victory has been defined as forcing your enemy to retreat, surrender, or die. Victory is when you overpower and force your will on your opponent. I would like to propose an expanded definition that includes what Indian women were doing. Victory is also when you get your enemy to love you.

That may be setting the bar a little high. It is also victory when you persuade your enemy to tolerate you, since that is the first step to incorporating with you. It is victory when you and your enemy blend so that the boundaries become indistinguishable, even if you give up some of what you are in the process.

Now, this is not a short-run type of victory; it is not an immediate-gratification victory, which Americans are so fond of. It is incremental, slow, and lasting. It stands the test of time, because it has deep roots.

I have to think: how much differently might we be fighting wars if this was our definition of victory?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Detention at Hutto: Video, Stories, Action

I had read about this before, but to my shame, I didn't follow links or watch videos. I was distracted by other things. I don't know what they were. But I didn't follow up on this when I first heard, and I should have.

Other feminists weren't as tunnel-visioned. They, and various kinds of civil rights activists, were on it. And they did get linked.

But in case any of you all were satisfied, as I was, to absorb few scraps and statistics as you skimmed through your blog reading, and then gloss past the rest of the story -- here are a few pieces of the story that have moved, and enraged me.

The ACLU describes conditions at Hutto:

While Hutto authorities maintain that "residents" are treated humanely, they are, in many ways, treated like prisoners. At the time of the ACLU's initial court filings, child detainees had to wear prison garb. They received one hour of recreation per day and opportunities to spend this hour outdoors were very rare. Children were detained in small cells for about 11 or 12 hours each day, and were prohibited from keeping food and toys in these cells, which lack any privacy. Although some of these conditions have improved slightly, they are still far from adequate.

In addition, access to adequate medical, dental, and mental health treatment is severely limited and, as a result, many children suffer from chronic ailments that worsen as they are left undiagnosed and untreated. Children are not afforded meaningful educational opportunities. Guards frequently discipline the children by threatening to separate them from their families.

The ACLU has taken action through lawsuits:

The ACLU recently filed lawsuits against federal officials charging that conditions at the Hutto facility violate provisions of the 1997 court settlement Flores v. Meese which mandated that children in federal immigration custody should be:

  • released promptly to family members when possible

  • kept in the least restrictive setting possible

  • guaranteed basic educational, health and social benefits

The ACLU lawsuits seek release of the children together with their families from the Texas facility under appropriate and humane supervision. According to Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas, “The choice is not between enforcement of immigration laws and humane treatment of immigrant families. There are various alternatives under which both can exist.”


The children that the ACLU profiles are Lithuanian, Venezualan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Romanian, and Guatamalan. They range in age from 3 to 17.

A child called Fredy has suffered representative problems with food, and health. He "has received inadequate medical care while in detention. On one occasion, he saw the nurse because of a cough and fever. The nurse barely looked at him and gave him cough syrup. Fredy is still suffering from this cough. Orbelina has asked for more syrup, but she was told that there is no more. For the last several weeks, Fredy has been light-headed and always looks like he is about to faint. Fredy has been taken to the nurse and told that nothing is wrong and that there is no medicine for his light-headedness. When Orbelina begged, she was told that they were saving the medicine for other children because it was not Fredy's "turn" for medicine."

He and his mother have even had their religious freedoms restricted. They "may not confess privately with a priest because a guard must always be present. Guards always force attendees to leave immediately after services end."

Three-year-old Marusia has been given inedible, adult food that causes her to throw up and have stomach pains. She "cannot understand her detention and is desperate to leave Hutto. Sometimes, she picks up a bag and says goodbye to her friends as though she were leaving, and cries hysterically when her parents tell her she cannot. At other times, Marusia repetitively sings "Ya me voy!" ("I'm leaving!"), or picks up telephones that she passes and asks, "Lawyer? Lawyer? Are we going?" although there is no one on the line. When taken outside for recreation, Marusia has attempted to climb the fence to escape from Hutto."

The children are afraid, anxious, angry, and depressed. Eleven-year-old Fredy has "has literally begun to bang his head and hands against the wall in frustration." Eight-year-old Yarely's "trauma has caused her to regress psychologically; she now communicates frequently in baby talk, talks about her fear of ghosts, and constantly wants to hold on to her mother for protection."

Two of the plaintiffs' personal statements are available online, in PDF form. At the bottom of this page, you can see drawings made by the children. You can listen to a podcast about what has happened, and is happening.

"I am scared of the guards," says Egle Baubonyte (in the plaintiff's statements). "I also remembered that the guard can have any criminal record as long as there are no deaths." She adds, "I am terrified of being separated from my mother... we need each other to stay sane," and, "They treat us like we are nothing."

"Sunny has only been outside a handful of times since we arrived at Hutto," says Saule Bunikyte, speaking of her nine-year-old daughter. Saule speaks of threats that guards have made to mothers, saying they will take away their children. She speaks of unreasonable restrictions placed on the children -- such as the children only being given one minute in the shower. "Sunny freaked out, she was crying," says Saule, "she felt bad because no kid can take a shower in 1 minute. She hates this place and she does not understand."


Some of the links I mention at the beginning of this post are months old. Some progress has been made in that time. At, the ACLU reports that it ten of the children it originally represented have been released. Seven more children are detained. And while the ACLU's acheivements are laudable, let's not overlook the pivotal sentence in their description of Hutto: "Although some of these conditions have improved slightly, they are still far from adequate."

In many ways, America's racist policies seem to be escalating. Bush is lobbying to increase troop numbers in Iraq to more than 200,000*, while congress has caved into continuing to fund the war, and Bush has grabbed for even more executive power in the case of national emergency. As America scrambles to kill brown people abroad, it -- or at least its racists and conservatives -- has also been galvanized around the terror of brown people out-breeding the population from within.

America is hysterically xenophobic. Brown people are other. Hunt them down in Iraq; purge them from the states. Define immigrant as meaning "brown" and "other," and white immigrants from Eastern Europe are included as a bonus. The terrorists are blowing us up, so lock them in inescapable cells. The immigrants are outbreeding us, so lock up their families and their children. Imprison the threat of fertility.


From the Unapologetic Mexican, contact information:

T. Don Hutto Residential Center
1001 Welch St.
P.O. Box 1063
Taylor, Texas

Phone: 512-218-2400
FAX: 512-218-2450


Straightforward links to blogs linked into the post:

Woman of Color Blog
The Unapologetic Mexican
Texas Civil Rights Review
Glenda in the Land of Oz
Truly Outrageous (hosting the 31st carnival of feminists)

This is an incomplete list of blogs that have spoken on the subject. If anyone has any other links they'd like to add, I would be happy to add them to this list as soon as I have an opportunity (my internet access will be spotty this weekend).

I'm also happy to update the possibilities for action if people have recommendations for concrete steps, other than contacting Hutto, the ACLU, or one's representatives.

*merci, Ginmar

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Practical Steps for Helping Malalai Joya

Heart at Woman's Space: The Margins reports a great list of ways for people to take concrete steps to help Malalai Joya, who has been suspended from the Afghan parliament for insulting warlords.

Here are some of her suggestions, but make sure to check out her post!

YOU CAN do so in the following ways:

- Write to Afghan officials and file your protest for expelling and prosecuting Joya, while the terrorists and human rights violators in the parliament were provided immunity before any court for their past crimes last month.

- Express your concern for Joya’s security during the court sessions as the fundamentalists currently hold key positions in Afghanistan’s judiciary.

- Circulate this letter and ask lawyers and defenders of human rights in your area and country to come forward and help Joya during her court proceedings and defend her.

- Donate to Joya’s security fund online at to help improve her security with necessary equipment and facilities, while she is now deprived of all official facilities.

Letters of protest can be sent to the following sources:

President Hamid Karzai

Supreme Court of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Parliament

Interior Ministry

Justice Ministry of Afghanistan

We thank you for your prompt action and support and hope you will forward a copy of your letters to

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Unfair to Middle Class White Guys?

By Nancy Jane Moore

Since Timmi brought up WisCon, I thought this blog would be a good place to explain a little about the panel called "Unfair to Middle Class White Guys."

We on the panel think the title was meant to be ironic. Or even sarcastic. We didn't chose it and frankly we find it a little obnoxious. But we've heard that a few people fear it was intended as a backlash panel for those who don't think the issue of gender balance in publishing is worth talking about.

Rest assured, it's not: We plan to have a serious -- though hopefully not humorless -- discussion of why the magazines end up with more stories by men than women.

And, since they put that word "white" in the title, and since we've heard about some backlash at the awards given by the Carl Brandon Society along the lines of "why isn't there an award for white men" -- see the WisCon Chronicles for details -- we're going to talk about race and science fiction as well.

We don't plan to go in for bashing. Or making stupid jokes. We'd really like to have as honest a conversation as possible about the diversity issues in SF/F publishing.

This panel is at 10:30 on Saturday night (in Senate B) and we'd really like to have a good turnout. I know the panel is opposite some very good parties, but you can party before and after. Come spend a little of your Saturday night talking about important issues!

Q: When Is Being Criticized Like Having Your Limbs Blown Off by a Landmine? A: When The Criticism Comes from Someone with Less Privilege Than You

Awhile back, I read an excellent post by the women's studies professor, and feminist blogeger, Hugo Schwyzer, called Words are not fists: some thoughts on how men work to defuse feminist anger.

In this post, he writes about how the men speak in his women's studies class:

...two of the guys did something that I see over and over again from men in women's studies classes. They prefaced their remarks by joking "I know I'm going to get killed for saying this, but..." One of them, even pretended to rise from his desk to position himself by the door, saying that "Once I say this, I know I'm going to have to make a run for it." Most of the women laughed indulgently, and I even found myself grinning along. thing I remember from my own college days that I see played out over and over again is this male habit of making nervous jokes about being attacked by feminists. In my undergrad days, I often prefaced a comment by saying "I know I'll catch hell for this". I've seen male students do as they did today and pretend to run; I've seen them deliberately sit near the door, and I once had one young man make an elaborate show (I kid you not) of putting on a football helmet before speaking up!

All of this behavior reflects two things: men's genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive "man-bashers." The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger in the classroom -- or even outside of it -- from feminists. Name one incident where an irate women's studies major physically assaulted a male classmate for something he said? Women are regularly beaten and raped -- even on college campuses -- but I know of no instance where a man found himself a victim of violence for making a sexist remark in a college feminist setting! "Male-bashing" doesn't literally happen, in other words, at least not on campus. But that doesn't stop men from using (usually half in jest) their own exaggerated fear of physical violence to make a subtle point about feminists.

There's a conscious purpose to this sort of behavior. Joking about getting beaten up (or putting on the football helmet) sends a message to young women in the classroom: "Tone it down. Take care of the men and their feelings. Don't scare them off, because too much impassioned feminism is scary for guys." And you know, as silly as it is, the joking about man-bashing almost always works! Time and again, I've seen it work to silence women in the classroom, or at least cause them to worry about how to phrase things "just right" so as to protect the guys and their feelings. It's a key anti-feminist strategy, even if that isn't the actual intent of the young man doing it -- it forces women students to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger. It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those "angry feminists" who (literally) scares men off and drives them away.

Criticism is not fists! This is a brilliant observation.

Of course, it's obvious. If I say "Your idea is sexist," then I'm not literally slugging you in the face. But at the same time, the joking frame allows the analogy to pass unnoticed. And when it passes unnoticed, its effect can be insidious. The women act to protect the man's feelings. They soften their criticism so they won't fulfill the violent imagery of the man's preemptive metaphor.
But I want to take it farther than Hugo does. People don't just say "don't attack me" as a way of getting feminists to back down. They also say it because they have a sense of being attacked. Criticism is not fists, but people really seem to perceive it that way.

And the less privilege the person who's making the criticism has, the more it feels like an attack. In this post, Ginmar (feminist veteran and SF writer) quotes Amanda Marcotte (ex-campaign blogger for John Edwards, who writes for the feminist blog Pandagon) : "“The less right you have to talk in the eyes of the hierarchy, the louder you seem. Which is probably why black women are seen as the loudest people ever.”

We see this in a lot of places, right? The common sense conviction that women talk more than men cannot be supported, and in fact, people find data that suggests that -- in ordinary conversation -- men talk more than women. If researchers externally impose a requirement that both men and women speak the same amount, then they both report that it feels like the men hardly got a chance to talk at all.

Women aren't supposed to talk, so when they talk, they're seen as talking A LOT. Black women really aren't supposed to talk, so when they talk, they're seen as talking REALLY LOUDLY.

Women aren't supposed to criticize, so when they criticize, it's not just words -- the surprise of their criticism feels like fists. And when women of color criticize? Well, then it's World War III.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WIMN's Voices Reports: Afghani Woman Suspended from Parliament for Insulting Warlords

From WIMN's Voices: Malalai Joya is Suspended from Parliament.

A few excerpts:

Twenty eight year old intrepid Afghan MP, Malalai Joya, has just been suspended from Parliament for comparing warlords in power to donkeys. Joya is the youngest and most outspoken member of Parliament and has survived 4 assassination attempts for denouncing warlords, many of whom were funded at various times by the US government in the fight against the Soviets (1980s) and the Taliban (post-9-11).

...It is clear that the US’s post-Taliban experiment in Afghanistan intended to fool Americans into believing that Afghan women were being liberated. We were convinced by the Bush administration and the mainstream media that “democracy” and “women’s rights” were the new buzzword in Afghanistan. But the US government did several things that ensured women’s political, economic and social rights would never be realized: they empowered the misogynist pre-Taliban warlords who now sit in government, they installed a pro-warlord puppet President into office (Hamid Karzai), and they have fought a futile war in the countryside against “Taliban remnants” that has achieved nothing but a legitimizing and strengthening of the Taliban. How could women possibly have any rights in such a situation?

...Today women in the Afghan Parliament have two options: they can remain silent and betray the people they are supposed to represent, thereby ensuring their personal safety. Or they can speak out in defiance of the blanket of silence surrounding the war criminals, and risk their lives like Malalai Joya. In such a context do words like “democracy” and “women’s rights” have any meaning?

Read the rest.

A Frequently Asked Question

Last weekend at a dinner party attended by several sf writers (including me), the question arose, “Why aren’t people out in the streets?” This question is so frequently asked that no one even bothers anymore to finish stating the question with the objective being “out in the streets” would presumably serve. And in fact it’s so familiar a question that I’ve never really taken a good look at it. No doubt it will be raised at WisCon this year, just as it was last year.

Everyone sitting at that table was smart. (In some cases, very, very smart.) And yet it apparently did not occur to any of us to propose a rephrasing of the question that would allow us to do more than play with the occasional data point and many amorphous generalizations about “them.” There was a comparison made, of course, to the Sixties. Someone did mention that the Military Draft had been a powerful motivator, but there was still dissatisfaction that things had gotten this bad and “people” weren’t out in the streets making life difficult for the Evil Overlords. And then someone did mention Cindy Sheehan: she was out in the streets. But not one of us thought to ask, “Why aren’t we out in the streets?” Now, having realized that not one of us asked that rather obvious question, on rephrasing the question “Why aren’t people out in the streets” to “Why aren’t we out in the streets,” I find myself faced with a new, related question: Who do we think “people” are, if not ourselves?

In fact, of course, there have been “people” out in the streets since Inauguration Day 2001. (That was one of the last occasions I myself was “out in the streets.”) Code Pink shows up everywhere. And the Raging Grannies. And parents of soldiers. And veterans. They’re constantly out in the streets. And some of those people who’ve been out in the streets have been serving unprecedentedly harsh jail sentences—many of them nuns and priests and other deeply religiously motivated people.

So tell me: why do you think all we aren’t out in the streets? If the only answer you can think of is necessarily framed in terms of “they,” then you’d also better answer the question of why you are not a part of the “them” you want to see save us all.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Aqueduct Goes to WisCon: a preview

Aqueduct is going to WisCon! (Big surprise, huh?) We’ll have a table in the dealer’s room, of course. And we'll be throwing a party with Payseur and Schmidt on Friday night in Room 623, at which we’ll be launching Kelley Eskridge’s new collection, Dangerous Space, and Nicola Griffith’s new memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party. We'll have food and drink and conversation and two door prizes involving chocolate; Nicola and Kelley and I will be there all evening, and all of our other attending authors will be there at least some of the time. Everyone is welcome, and we hope to see a lot of you there.

Two sessions will be featuring Aqueduct's authors reading from their work:

Andrea Hairston, Wendy Walker, Nancy Jane Moore, and L. Timmel Duchamp will be reading from 10-11:15 a.m. Saturday morning

Eleanor Arnason, Kelley Eskridge, Nicola Griffith, and Nisi Shawl will be reading from 2:30-3:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon

Other programming our authors will be participating in include (in chronological order):


Opening Ceremonies—Sue Lange will be participating as Broad Universe’s representative

Lifestyles of the Rich and Supernatural Friday, 8:45-10:00 p.m. M: L. Timmel Duchamp,Holly Black, Carla M Lee, Catherine Lundoff


Women Authors You Probably Never Heard Of (But Should Read!): The Karen Axness Memorial Panel, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: David Lenander, Lesley Hall, David Peterson, Laura M. Quilter

Genre Tokenism Today: The New Octavia, Saturday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: Nora Jemison, K Tempest Bradford, Candra K. Gill, Nnedi Nkemdili Okorafor-Mbahu, Nisi Shawl

Liking Your Life in an Unlikeable World: Personal Energy for Political Work, Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. M: Hanne I Blank, Eleanor Arnason, Debbie L. Smith, James A Trimarco, Élisabeth Vonarburg

Foremothers of Today's Feminist SF, Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. M: L. Timmel Duchamp, Jeanne Gomoll, Lesley Hall, Lynn Kendall

Making Good Books, Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. M: Liz L. Gorinsky, John D. Berry, John Klima, Heidi Lampietti, Wendy Alison Walker

The Ten-Foot Shelf Of Perdition: Books to Avoid, Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. M: Lesley Hall, Chris Hill, Betsy Urbik

Feminism and the Problem of Gender for the Source, Voice, and Identity of the Woman Who Writes/Feminist and Science Fictional Resources for the Cultural Critic of Technoscience (Academic Papers) Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. L. Timmel Duchamp and Joan Haran

Can Technology Be The Answer? Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. M: Graham Sleight, Eleanor Arnason, Richard J. Chwedyk, Gregory Frost, Will Ludwigsen

SF&F — Revolutionary or Conservative? Saturday, 4:00-5:15 p.m. M: Andrea D. Hairston, Eleanor Arnason, Paul Kincaid

Outreach to Non-Readers Feminism, Saturday, 4:00-5:15 p.m. M: Joan Haran, Alicia Ellen Goranson, Graham Sleight, lucy ann synk

Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, Saturday, 4:00-5:15 p.m. Leah Rose Cutter, Jennifer Dunne, Rina Elson, Anne Harris, Sue Lange, Katherine Mankiller, Lyda Morehouse, Jennifer Pelland, Kristine Smith

Making War on "War" Saturday, 9:00-10:15 p.m. M: Jean Mornard, Paul Kincaid, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Wendy Alison Walker, Laurel Winter

Criticism: Beyond Slamming And Mythologizing, Saturday, 10:30-11:45 p.m. M: Paul Kincaid, Andrea D. Hairston, Michael Marc Levy, Natasha Minnerly, Maureen Kincaid Speller

Unfair to Middle-Class White Guys! Saturday,10:30-11:45 p.m. M: Nancy Jane Moore, Eileen Gunn, John Klima, Deb Taber


Carl Brandon Society Update, Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: Nisi Shawl, Candra K. Gill, M. J. Hardman, Victor Jason Raymond

Let's You And Her Fight, Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: Alan Bostick, Lee Abuabara, Joan Haran, Liz Henry, Steven E. Schwartz

The Object In the Story, the Story In the Object, Sunday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: Kat A. Beyer, Catherine Anne Crowe, Wendy Alison Walker, Terri Windling, Erzebet YellowBoy

Adventures in Peacemaking, Sunday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. M: Jeanne Gomoll, Lesley Hall, Rosemary Kirstein, Naomi Kritzer, Jean Mornard

Romance of the Revolution, Sunday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. M: Paul Kincaid, L. Timmel Duchamp, Laurie J. Marks, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Lyn Paleo

Little Girls on the Hero's Journey, Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. M: Nisi Shawl, Kate Elliott, David L. Emerson, Rebecca Marjesdatter, Kerrigan Valentine

Speculative Fiction Theatre, Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. Liz L. Gorinsky, Andrea D. Hairston, Reina Hardy, Wendy Alison Walker

The Human Genome, Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. M: Sue Lange, Vylar Kaftan, Kimberley Long-Ewing, Allan Moore, Rebecca K. Rowe

Writing About War, Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. M: Naomi Kritzer, Eleanor Arnason, Yoon Ha Lee, Kelly McCullough

Writing as Spiritual Practice, Sunday, 10:00-11:15 p.m. M: Susan Palwick, Lori Buschbaum, Patrick James Rothfuss, Nisi Shawl

Words Like Icebergs, Sunday, 10:00-11:15 p.m. M: Nicolle Minnerly, Nicola Griffith, Natasha Minnerly, Lawrence Schimel, Catherynne M. Valente

Glorifying Terrorism, 11:30pm -12:45 a.m. Readings by Vylar Kaftan, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Rachel Virginia Swirsky, James A Trimarco


How Dense Can We Get? Options for Making a Better Future, Monday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. M: Nancy Jane Moore, Paula L. Fleming, Philip Edward Kaveny

And of course, most of us will be available at the Sign-out on Monday morning.

That’s lot of programming, much of it conflicting (meaning that, as usual, we’ll have be missing a lot of one another’s panels and facing some hard choices).

I’d be very open to posting notes or comments about WisCon on this blog. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact me at

Sci Fi Reading List, Recommended to Feminists

I wrote this recommended reading list of science fiction work for the folk at Alas, a Blog, who aren't deep into the science fiction culture. I doubt anything on it will surprise anyone in this audience -- since, you know, some of it was *written* by y'all -- but just in case there's anything here that intrigues anyone, I thought I'd toss it up for your perusal.


Awhile back there was a thread at I Blame the Patriarchy about feminist science fiction. Here's an incredibly incomplete list of some feminist-minded science fiction that I love. The stories and novels won't be shockingly new to most people who are well-versed in fantasy & science fiction, but I think they're newish to people who don't really watch the genre. I'm also going to skip some of the more obvious feminist canon, such as Tiptree, Butler, Delany, Russ, LeGuin, Atwood, and Piercy. If you haven't read them, go out and read them!

With those provisos in mind, I'm confining myself to three short story recommendations, and three novel recommendations, so please don't take this list as representative of anything except the first few wonderful things that occurred to me. I'll probably revisit the topic later. :)


  • Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason

    "Knapsack Poems" by Eleanor Arnason is what I've been calling my favorite short story since I ran across it in an anthology last year. It's about some convincingly alien aliens whose physical presence involves a radical reinterpretation of gender and body. Since it's online, I'm not going to say more. Go read. :)

  • Love's Body, Dancing in Time by L. Timmel Duchamp

    Love's Body, Dancing in Time is a short story collection by L. Timmel Duchamp, the editor of the feminist publisher Aqueduct Press. In this collection, she explores gender, sexuality, and self-definition, through interesting characters, worlds, and extraordinarily beautiful imagery. All of the stories reflect a deep engagement with feminist ideas, rendered striking and moving through Timmi's unique interpretations.

    Timmi's work has an academic cast which the pedant in me really enjoys; one of the stories in this collection is an alternate history examination of Abelard and Heloise, written as an academic paper. My favorite story in the collection is "The Gift," the story of a woman from a world with a binary gender system who travels to another world and falls in love with a man who is a member of a third gender.

  • With Her Body by Nicola Griffith

    The stories in this collection are striking and dark, with strange, beautiful imagery. My favorite story in the collection is "Yaguara," the last story, which carried me away -- past writer brain, past self reading the book.

    In the afterword, L. Timmel Duchamp writes a fascinating analysis of Griffith's stories; she discusses Griffith's exclusive use of women as sexual creatures which creates a world where women are not othered in response to men's sexuality. She also talks about the constructs our culture has built around feminine versus masculine fiction -- for instance, how universality is constructed as masculine, so that feminine characters are seen as 'limited' and 'embodied.' While Nicola's stories were so beautiful as to carry me past the intellectual interpretation of the work while I was reading, I was pleased to have the concepts brought to my attention by Timmi's afterword when I was done.


  • Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

    This book weaves through the consciousnesses of three black women in different places and historical periods: a slave in the Carribean; a dance hall girl who was the lover of Charles Baudelaire; and an Egyptian slave girl who worked in a brothel, and later became a saint.

    I found this book utterly seductive. Reading it was a profoundly moving experience, for me. The prose is gorgoeus, and there's a kind of fiery, driving strength that propels the tension through disparate places and events. The reader gets to know each character intimately, and Nalo's deft, insightful, poetic prose allows each storyline to carry the weight of untold and unwritten histories. Unsurprisingly, it's really smart about the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, spirtuality, history, and the tension between colonized and pre-contact reality. For more good reading, check out Nalo Hopkinson's blog.

  • The Slave and the Free by Susie McKee Charnas

    The Slave and the Free seems to be a rerelease, compiling the books Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines which were originally released separately. I wasn’t sure whether or not to include these books, because they seem to me to be just as much feminist classics as Tiptree or Delany, but I don’t think I’ve met many non-science-fiction-oriented people who’ve read them. And that’s sad.

    These books postulate a post-apocalyptic dystopian future in which women's oppression has become literal slavery, homosexuality has been naturalized, and the men interact according to the hierarchical guidelines of age cohorts. A female slave escapes the dystopian society at the same time as it begins to collapse. Leaving the boundaries of the country where she was born, she joins the Freewomen who live outside. Among them, she finds not utopia, but an ambiguous society. The novels raise sophisticated questions about what utopia and dystopia are or should be, always choosing the complicated answer over the simplistic one.

  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh

    I wasn't sure whether or not it was fair to call this book explicitly feminist -- not that it doesn't reflect feminist ideas, but feminism doesn't seem to me to be one of its projects. And then, as I was poking around on the internet, I saw that it's a recipient of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award -- which is given to science fiction work that plays with gender. The characters in this novel are indeed portrayed with deep characterization that doesn't abide by gender roles, but I imagine that the Tiptree committee may have been drawn by this book's portrayal of a world in which homosexuality has been heavily stigmatized (in America) and made illegal (in China). In this novel, China is the major power, and America is a colonial backwater, which has significantly altered the political and cultural landscape of the world.

    The novel is told in episodic bursts. The main character has three or four chapters, but the people who wind through his life get to tell their own stories, often in ways that don't relate directly to the main character's plot. I was drawn in by the book's simple imagery and prose, and by the effortless way in which it drew deep characters and a startling world. The prose is both deceptively light and emotionally evocative. Each turn on world politics, race relations, and gender, feels effortlessly smooth and accurately drawn.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Brief Conversation with Nancy Jane Moore

Timmi: Nancy, you’ve been a lawyer for a long time, even if you haven’t practiced law for all of that time; and you are also trained in the martial arts, which you do continue to practice as a part of your daily life. Training in the law imposes as much of a distinctively structured mental discipline as training in the martial arts does. In fact, thinking about this, I imagine that these two disciplines have taught you very different (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) ways of perceiving, evaluating, and acting in the world. Often the disciplines that have shaped a writer’s mental and perceptual processes exercise a significant influence on what and how they write. Would you say this has been true for you? And if so, you could you offer us some concrete details of that?

Nancy: I began my study in Shorin Ryu Karate—a hard-style Okinawan form—but most of my training has been in Aikido. These days I'm also learning some T'ai Chi. Why I started is an interesting question. I usually tell people that I got the idea from watching Diana Rigg play Emma Peel in The Avengers, and that has an element of feminist truth: That show did leave me with the idea that a woman who trained in martial arts could handle herself against men.

But the deeper truth is that I always felt a call to the path of warriorship. The Japanese term for the way of the warrior is budo, which also means to turn the spear, and that is my concept of warriorship: to be the protector, not the rampager. I use the word "call" deliberately, because I suspect this is not unlike the "vocation" of the person who becomes a monk or nun.

I feel a similar call to writing—and especially to writing fiction. Thinking back to childhood, I remember a core desire—as basic as the call to warriorship—to spend my life creating art. Writing became my art form because I had some innate talent for the manipulation of words and ideas. But all writing is important to me—not just creative writing—because I have learned over the years that I don't understand an idea until I have written about it.

And—likewise—I don't understand the principles of Aikido until I try to move with them. So both writing and martial arts are rooted in a sense of vocation, and are also key to how I understand the world.

They have one more important thing in common—depth. As I continue to train in Aikido (and bring T'ai Chi into the mix), I learn new things, some of them things I never even thought about before or realized I wanted to know. The same thing happens to me in writing. Both arts give me the sense of peeling off layers without a preset idea of what I might find.

Both writing and Aikido are tied to communication. Aikido training requires a partner, and you learn from how you train with that partner—essentially working on yourself while working with others (a daunting task at times). Writing needs a reader—though because you do the work in advance, you don't have the immediate give and take of Aikido. Still, the intent to communicate is there.

In martial arts. I started out with a desire to be tough—I recall with both pleasure and amusement the bruises I brought home from karate class, bruises that often freaked out my male friends. Somewhere over the years I have lost most of that desire—though tough still shows up if you make me angry. Now I am most interested in changing things by blending (as we might say in Aikido). That change came from a combination of greater skill and openness to new ideas.

I see a similar progression in writing. I know I started with a simple desire to write adventure stories in which women had the adventures. Now, though, what I want to write is so much more complicated, so much more nuanced. I still want to tell stories about women warriors, but my concept of warriorship is much broader than it used to be. My women characters don't look as much like warriors as they did in my first published story, which was about a woman soldier who ended up in command of a small troop in a losing war. ("Change of Command," published in Sword and Sorceress 6, bless Marion Zimmer Bradley.)

One other thing about martial arts: I have reached a point where I have almost no ambition connected with my study. I just want to learn. I teach some Aikido these days—I find I learn a lot by teaching at this point—and I'd like to get good enough at T'ai Chi to teach that, too, but I'm not striving to be a master instructor.

As a writer, though, I have ambition. I am actively interested in selling my work, in getting published and noticed. And money would certainly be nice. Mostly, though, my ambition is to write something great—and that involves continuing to learn.

Timmi: I think many people (specifically, those who are unfamiliar with the concept of "budo") would be surprised to hear that the call to warriorship is a call to be a protector rather than a rampager. Add to that, there's a popular perception that martial arts, for women, is "self-defense," which is a very different goal from the goal of being a protector.

I'm currently reading a book by Kim Chernin called My Life As A Boy. The premise of the book is that in her late thirties, after her daughter went off to college, the narrator (the book is classified as nonfiction, so I think we're supposed to take the narrator as the author herself) “became a boy” in the following sense:

If a woman in her thirties turns into a boy, that may mean she's having trouble getting out of the place she's in. She requires the instinctive, wholly natural ruthlessness of a boy. He will leave home; everyone expects it of him...he's off into the world, he's a boy, he's going... Women, especially mothers, know in every moment who is waiting for them to get back home, to call in, to fetch them; this knowledge is what it means to be a woman. Therefore the fate of a girl, the future she's definitely growing into, holds the certainty of restriction.

What makes me think of this book now is that the narrator says that the moment of transformation, when she "turned into a boy," came when she felt a desire to protect the woman standing beside her at a demonstration: "I was taller than she was, the sort of person someone would lean up against, the strong one, the one who can support the other." Elsewhere, the narrator notes that her husband, Max (whom she leaves when she "turns into a boy"), had always taken care of her. I find this way of thinking quite problematic, myself. Surely many women have experienced a powerful desire to take care of others (especially if they are younger, less experienced, or older and physically frail, and of course if she's a mother and they're her children). I know I have (and I am childless). Since this is a very interesting and underexplored subject for women, could you elaborate a bit more on what it means to feel called to be a protector (not so much in an ethical as a psychological sense)?

Nancy: My experience is quite different from Chernin's, as you describe it. Put in those terms, perhaps in some ways I was always a “boy:” I am larger than the average woman, I'm an older sister, and I have no brothers. I took on the role as my “baby” sister's protector when I was about five, and in many ways my father treated me more as a son than a daughter. That is, he wanted me to pursue the career he didn't have and he challenged me intellectually from an early age. So perhaps some of my calling toward the protector role comes from that upbringing—even though I didn't take up martial arts until I was 30.

But, like you, I don't think the protector urge is foreign to most women. Traditionally, it is confined to certain situations—the classic example of the mother protecting her child from a wild animal, for example—but I suspect most women have found themselves in situations where they felt the duty to protect someone else.

However, I also think the idea of being a protector—and particularly a protector of women—is hammered into men so thoroughly that both men and women tend to assume that the role is a male one. So women tend to downplay their experiences of being protectors, while men feel obligated to protect others, even when they aren't really capable of doing it.

The concept of protection is a large one, but of course the immediate image—especially in a discussion that includes martial arts—is protection from physical violence. And I fear that most women do not feel capable of protecting either themselves or others from physical attack. But I don't think this means they don't have the desire to protect others, or won't jump in to do so in dire situations. In fact, I suspect—though I have no data on this—that unskilled women are more likely to fight to protect someone else than they are to fight to protect themselves.

However, if a man is present, I suspect (and again, I'm talking about impressions—I've never seen any research on this subject, though it would be fascinating to read) that most women will defer to him to handle the attack. And most men will probably assume it's their job.

Like the issue of women in combat, this is a minefield in gender relations. I recall a discussion I had with a friend of mine who was a Vietnam veteran. The first time we discussed the idea of women in combat, he absolutely rejected the idea—and he at that time was trying hard to be a good hippie and was not generally anti-feminist. When we discussed it again some 15 years later, he told me how difficult the issue was for him on emotional grounds. “If I wasn't protecting others by going to war, then why was I doing it?” By that point, though, he was willing to acknowledge that some women might also want to protect others.

Protecting someone else on that most basic physical level—the life or death level—is a big responsibility. It's frightening. And as a society, we have not finished working through how we feel about this for both men and women. Our movies—and even our fiction—are more likely to show us women who can't take care of themselves or others, except for a few very exceptional cases, generally superheroes of some kind. I suspect this reflects the fear of most women that they can't fight effectively and the need most men have to see women as someone they must protect.

So women deal with a lot of mixed signals. They want to protect others, but they don't think they can. I'm working on a book about self defense that is intended to convince women—and men as well—that they can learn how to defend themselves. It's not a book on how to fight—fighting is a very small part of the whole process—but it is intended to convince people that protecting yourself and others is a skill that can be learned by almost everyone.

Perhaps that is why it's such a minefield—there's such a large mythology around fighters. Teaching people that the anyone can learn the skills of self defense, that it isn't just for the exceptional, is a challenge to a very established image of warriors as separate from everyone else. (Of course, some people will always be better at it than others, just as some people are world-class athletes while most of us just go out for a swim or a jog. But the extreme level of skill isn't required very often.)

As for the relationship between self defense and protecting others: I think they are two sides of the same coin. You can't protect anyone else if you can't defend yourself. I certainly took up the martial arts to learn to defend myself—I wanted to be able to walk down the street unafraid—but I wasn't motivated by any particular fear at the time. (It occurs to me that I assume that anyone who says they took up martial arts for self defense reason acted in response to an actual assault or a specific fear of attack, which may not be accurate.) In my case, I began my study out of a more general desire to be a warrior—a role I always saw as that of a protector, for some reason. Perhaps it was more of a philosophical motivation than a practical one.

Whatever the initial motivation, though, I should probably point out that nobody keeps training in the martial arts out of the simple desire to be able to defend themselves or others. After a few years, training is much more about the search for truth (or enlightenment or whatever name you want to put on it) than it is about how to fight.

And perhaps just a little bit about the fact that every time you learn some new move, it's just so damn cool. (Which brings us back to how martial arts study is like writing.)

Timmi: And your training in the Law?

Nancy: Law, for me, has always been a compromise profession and I have never made my peace with it. I turned to it in part as a substitute for warriorship—a way to take care of people—but I discovered early on that trial work (the most obvious version of lawyer as warrior) was an all-consuming job and the rest of the practice of law was, for the most part, tedious and limiting. I suspect that the only way I could have become fulfilled as a lawyer would have been to become a good trial lawyer, and that would have required me to lop off the rest of the things that mattered to me in life, including particularly the opportunity to grow and learn on the philosophical level.

I also went to law school because I was good at the basic skills of reading, writing, and speaking, because my parents wanted me to, because much of my early fiction writing wasn't particularly good, and because too many men said I couldn't do it because I was female. (I particularly recall a high school history teacher telling me that I'd be “just a housewife”—I've probably spent my whole life determined to avoid that fate.)

So unlike martial arts or writing, law has never been my vocation and I have had trouble respecting what I learned from it. I did learn a lot in law school—though I hated it, which should have given me a clue (undergraduate school drove me nuts at various times, but mostly I loved it). But it is valuable to understand how our legal system works and I do know how to think like a lawyer. In fact, essentially what legal training does is teach you how lawyers think and give you the analytical tools to solve problems. It’s very valuable—if the problem you’re trying to solve is legal—and it has made me aware of sloppy thinking (both my own and that of others).

But I wouldn't go to law school if I had it to do over.

Timmi: You went to law school in the early-to-mid 1970s, right? If my memory serves me, merely entering the legal and medical professions in those years was tantamount to storming the barricades. So in that sense your choice of a career in law must have been a bold move, yes? Many people assumed that women wouldn't have either the stamina or the smarts to make it in the professions. Were you surprised to find that the work itself wasn't very satisfying? And what career, if you had it to do all over again, would you have chosen to pursue instead?

Nancy: Yes, I went to law school in the first half of the 1970s and you're right—in many ways it was a form of storming the barricades. My law school class was 10 percent women, and that was an increase over the previous years. (Today, law school classes tend to be pretty evenly split between men and women.) And when I practiced law in Wichita Falls, Texas, in the late 70s, there were 8 women lawyers in town, out of a total bar of better than 100 lawyers. (I think I can still remember who all the women were and what kind of work they did.) At the time, people were debating whether women could really make it as trial lawyers—something that to me presages the current debate over whether women can handle combat.

For me, law school wasn't as bold a move as it might have been for other women. For one thing, my parents very much wanted me to go to law school. And I saw myself as different from the general run of women—an issue that I have since grappled with in feminist terms. I wasn't particularly good at “girlie” things, but I was tough enough for verbal sparring.

Given that I really didn't like law school, I don't think it shocked me much that I didn't like practicing law. And—in truth—I didn't do a very good job of building a career. I'm sure some of the barriers I ran into were caused by sexism; others I created for myself out of my hippie idealism.

I don't think I ever truly believed in the law. Law—like every other profession—has its core principles, and I've found—contrary to the popular impression—that most lawyers actually subscribe to them. One of those principles is that the law, while not perfect, is sacrosanct. Once we decide what it is, we must all follow it. So you get odd examples, such as John Ashcroft refusing to sign off on Bush's domestic surveillance program because he thought it went beyond the law, or judges lecturing attorneys about failing their responsibilities to their clients. I think these people are true believers in the principles of the law as profession.

As a child of the Sixties, I had trouble with truly believing in law in part because I was keenly aware that something could be legal and unfair at the same time. (I'm old enough to have gone to segregated schools and worked when the minimum wage for women was lower than the minimum wage for men.) My principles limited the jobs I sought. And while I don't regret the principles, they did limit my ability to spread my wings as a lawyer.

While I don't think I'd go to law school now, if I had it to do again, I must confess being a lawyer was a very useful role for me as a woman in a society struggling with gender issues. Lawyers, by definition, get taken seriously. Perhaps the most practical approach would have been to move to working as a legal editor much earlier—I find legal journalism much more satisfying that practicing law.

But if I had it to over—and if I had understood myself as well in my early 20s as I do now—I think I would pursue a journalism career. I wanted to write, and the way you become a writer is to write. Journalism makes you write quickly and figure things out.

I might have devoted some time to studying other areas, with an eye to writing about them. The great science writer Natalie Angier, in her new book, Canon, talks about studying science so that she could write about it. I think it would have been valuable to me as a writer to study various subjects and then write about them as a way to cement my knowledge as well as to educate others. And such a path might have also suited my far-from-one-track mind, which always wants to learn something new.

I might also have explored radio news in addition to print journalism. I have developed a great fondness for radio in recent years and particularly admire those who can do great live interviews with people.

But, essentially, I would have built my career around writing, rather than telling myself that I could always write on the side. That's not a political decision—going to law school was in many ways a political decision—but a deeply personal one. I wanted to write. The best career for me would have been one built around writing.

Timmi: Thanks very much, Nancy. Some of this relates to your essay in The WisCon Chronicles, of course, but some of it is new to me. I'm really looking forward to reading your book now in progress.

XKCD character: "Political debates... show how good smart people are at rationalizing."

I'd like to comment on this recent cartoon from the webcomic xkcd.

Cartoon about politics from XKCD.

This cartoon was brought up on a science fiction message board that I read and participate in, at the end of a long conversation about politics. The conversation was about "tolerance," and I voiced my opinion that I'm very suspicious when people bring up the topic of "tolerance" as an abstract, because in my experience, people who are talking about tolerance in that context often want to coopt the language of civil rights in order to draw false equivalence between non-equivalent statements. "I support rights for gay people" and "gay people are immoral" are not equivalent statements.

While I like and respect the two people who posted this cartoon, the effect* of introducing the cartoon into the conversation is to minimize anyone who is passionate about politics by saying that their opinions are based not on clear thinking, or passion, or reaction to oppression, but on "rationalization."

There is a legitimate point being made in this cartoon, as any teacher well knows. Teaching in front of a classroom is a tricky business. It's difficult to be endowed with so much trust, and I appreciate that people struggle with that.

Outside of math, there are rarely objective and concrete facts that can be pointed to with absolute certainty, by anyone, from any place. 2 + 2 = 4 is not, or at least should not be, a controversial statement.

But the simple fact that someone can argue with me when I say "I support gay rights" is not an indication that I am simply "rationalizing" my position. To suggest it is so is to dismiss the concerns and oppression of gay people.

To say that caring about and debating politics is all about "smart people rationalizing" is the epitome of a priveleged statement. People who are fighting for their rights and survival do not have the privelege to say "oh, well, it all doesn't really matter" or "I guess this is just a difference of opinion."

In this country, black women have been sterilized for the color of their skin. I strongly doubt that my interlocutors in that discussion would have agreed that it was acceptable behavior. For me to argue against it -- for black women to argue against it -- would they call this an exercise in rationalization? I certainly hope not.

People suffer. Queer people suffer. Women suffer. Poor people suffer. People of color suffer. Our suffering is not a cheap political point, to be argued away by saying that our justifiable anger is merely an example of "smart people rationalizing."

But I don't really want to pick on the people who posted this cartoon. They're nice; they're smart; and I don't think either one of them intended to offend me. On a personal level, I'm not upset with them. But politically, I want to address the message behind that maneuver, and behind this cartoon, because it's larger than a single exchange in a debate.