Feminism in Science Fiction and Being a Feminist Ally

8 Feb

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine the other day. She’s far more educated in Feminism than I — I never took a Women’s Studies course at the University, nor did I have many Feminist friends in college. (I was a geek.) Therefore, I read as much as I can on my own, talk with other Feminists, and form my own opinions. My friend stated that she firmly believes that men cannot be Feminists. They can only be Feminist Allies. She believes that men who claim the Feminist label are prone to use their male privilege to define Feminism, which is, in itself, a form of oppression. In short, when the oppressor defines for the oppressed what is oppressive there’s an instant conflict of interest. I’m conflicted about this, I have to admit. On one hand, she has a point. I think of this argument whenever white people declare whether or not something is ‘racist.’ It swiftly mutates into dictating to another person what their feelings are — dictating to them the words (and situations) by which they’re allowed to be insulted. So. Not. Cool. On the other hand, I believe Feminism must be inclusive in order to work, and telling men they can’t be Feminists is being exclusive. 

Before anyone starts into me about how I’m ‘merely’ bantering semantics, please understand that I know that I am. However, there’s no ‘merely’ in this. I’m a professional writer. As a writer, I know that words are important. Communication is damned difficult. Words are subtle. This is where the art lies behind literature. This is also why you’re likely to find more than one meaning behind words listed in the dictionary. That’s why I get annoyed when people tell me that specific words don’t matter. They do, very much so. In fact, one of the first lessons writers tend to learn is to discern the distinction between what their words say and what they meant for their words to say. In short, intent has nothing to do with what’s actually there.

This brings me to Myke Cole’s article “They Didn’t Have to Earn It,” which is about women in the military and in military science fiction. I’ll be honest. I like Myke. It’s obvious to me that he’s working hard at learning about Feminism. This is a good thing. And I suspect that I understand the point he was trying to make — that women are equals whether or not men decide to recognize that fact. I also think I understand why he chose the title he did. The statement is provocative and, as such, brings traffic to the website. Unfortunately, the rest of the article devalues the very hard work women do in order to be recognized for being what they are born — that is, equals. My perception of the article started with this statement: “Women didn’t need to earn anything. They always had the right and the ability to serve in combat roles.” Actually, no. Women didn’t always have the right. Women were specifically banned from combat in 1994. Because of this, the article left me with the impression that all women had to do was wait for men to recognize them. No big deal. All problems magically solved. The princess didn’t save herself. She wasn’t active. She doesn’t have that power and never did. So, let’s not give her credit because the rules are: the prince must save the princess, and now he has and or will. Problem solved as long as men remember that women exist at men’s sufferage and as the ones in power we need to wield it wisely. Because sharing power isn’t the point; noblesse oblige is the point. The End.

Look, we all make mistakes. Hell, I may have made a mistake in how I’ve interpreted Myke’s article. But mistakes are an important part of what makes us human beings. Education is expensive or it’s hard and sometimes painful — in some cases it’s e) all the above. Making mistakes are how human beings best learn. (Perfection isn’t learning. Ask any teacher.) Experience comes about from making mistakes, and with experience comes wisdom. (And this is why I make as many mistakes as I can. I do so want to be wise.) It’s important to note that mistakes, that is, education, in the public sphere is not for cowards. To that point I want to say that Feminists aren’t perfect either.[1] With the announcement of the finalists for the BSFA Awards, it was pointed out that while progress had been made for writers of SF who happen to be female, the BSFA list is 100% white. The author who dared to point out this fact received a great deal of unpleasant push back on Twitter because he happens to be a person of color. The truth of the matter is the fight for inclusiveness in SF and F is not even close to over. As a Feminist and an author, I’m pleased that all the discussion about women not receiving recognition is having a positive effect. This is a good thing! However, as an ally, I failed to notice the lack of persons of color on the list, and I’m deeply embarrassed that it took a person of color to point this out.

Again, none of us is perfect. We’re all works in progress.

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[1] Just have a look at this chart explaining White Feminism.

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