Tag Archives: women

Sirens Is Now My Home

If you’ve read most any other person’s experience attending Sirens, you’ve an inkling of what I’m going to say.

Yes, it is an amazing few days—surrounded by women and men (why, YES, men do attend Sirens, and enjoy it immensely) who celebrate who they are, and what and who they love. The conversations are far-ranging and tightly-focused, curious and passionate, overlapping and attentive. The interactions are both open and intimate. There is space and there is affection. Questions and affirmations. Challenges and comforts. Embracing old friends and picking up where we left off last year, and embracing new friends with the anticipation of connections yet to be formed.

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Three cool things in particular, but in no particular order:

First: Conversations about grief and grieving. Not many opportunities come about in daily life for those. People close to me are much more interested in making sure I’m “all right,” which to them means I’m not expressing loss and longing. That makes it easier for me to talk about grief with people I don’t see all the time; they tend to be more curious than concerned, and curiosity is what opens doors in search of answers. Those chats are emotional gold for me—the chance to share in the hope it’ll help someone else, yes, but also the opportunity to better understand myself and the process.

Second: The Sirens Fight Club. Hooking up with women who understand the subtle and overt challenges of choosing to train—to openly enjoy—combat arts is exhilarating. Truly, I wanted another entire weekend to spend with these women, and I knew so within the first few minutes of our meeting. We’re going to plot out a proposal or two for next year. Truly, between us, we could offer a multi-day workshop!

Hmm…

Third: Laurie Marks. I’ve said before I am grateful for, and humbled by, the female fantasy writers who “raised” me in this crazy world of storytelling. Laurie was the first published writer I’d ever met, the first to teach me about critique groups, the first to give me feedback on my very first attempted novel. I was nineteen and stupid and arrogant and ambitious, and when she told me I used too many gerunds, I had to go home and look up the word (in an actual printed dictionary, no less!) because I hadn’t a clue. We lost touch a few years later, and the more years that passed, the more awkward it felt to pop back into her life with a “Hey, remember me?”

Twenty-five years passed that way.

Nervousness remained as Sirens came closer, until I passed Laurie in the hall on the second day and re-introduced myself.

And was given a full smile and a tight hug and an invitation to lunch with her and Deb. Catching up was wonderful and too brief, but there isn’t a shred of awkwardness or nervousness on my part remaining. There will not be a horrible time-gap again!

All of that was Sirens for me.

The conference will be in Colorado again next year, but this time up in Vail at a marvelous luxury resort that—and this is the incredible part—will cost little more than the rooms down in Denver.

You want to do this, my darlings. You want to do this so, so badly.

You want to come to Vail in October, when it might be clear and merely crisp at sundown only to give way to snow-covered mountainsides by sunrise. When we will celebrate the women of fantasy who not only hold power in their own right, but wield it as well. Women of strength. Women of magic.

Women we all know.

Women like you.

#SFWApro

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

 

(This article originally appeared on These Certain Musings in July 2012.)

This story troubles me greatly.  It’s taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly–beyond the obvious–why.  During this morning’s karate class, I think I figured it out.  Now to see if I can articulate it.  I’m using a bunch of newbie-author italics and bolds.  Oh, well.

The decision made by the Readercon board says to me that harassment happened, and that witnesses backed it up.  It says the behavior was not acceptable–but it was excusable.  A short-term banning says the boundary-crossing–which I understand included physical contact, correct me if I’m wrong–was determined to be not nice, but not a big deal.

But there’s another notion I want to discuss–a related tangent, if you will–that this situation triggered for me.  I don’t think it’s anything new, and it incorporates what others are saying, but I decided to post it anyway.  While the situation I’ve read of is the jumping-off point, I am not talking about that specific situation.  I’m talking about generalities and probabilities, not specifics and certainties.

Statistically, the larger danger is not the creepy stranger lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce.  It’s the family member or acquaintance who keeps his behavior just inside the lines of what society tells us we should expect to accept, the level of behavior we should treat with subtlety and civility, until he’s ready to attack.

But the primary danger is where society puts those lines.

Alas, many acquaintance attacks begin with the same behavior that many would deem “mere clueless rudeness.”  But following from place to place, invading personal space, seemingly casual touching, refusal to stop–all are behaviors we know can lead to a life-threatening attack.  We know this at a deep and primal level.  That’s why it makes us uncomfortable.

And society as a whole has agreed we may not take defensive action until after the aggressor has attacked.  In other words, it’s perfectly cool for the man to say he misinterpreted a woman’s actions, even though the woman is left fearing for her physical safety.  But if the woman takes definitive and physical action to stop an attack before it escalates, she is usually blamed for overreacting.  Shamed for being rude.  Castigated for embarrassing the one who is crossing boundaries.

Y’all know I teach self-defense.  One thing we discuss and practice at length is the correlation between distance, time, and safety.  The greater the distance between you and danger, the more time there is to react.  The more time you have, the greater the likelihood of reaching safety.

But the good manners women are taught draw the lines of “appropriate” response inside an average person’s reaction time, inside the point of likely success.  It isn’t the man’s superior strength or size that is most dangerous.  It’s the fact we’re not permitted to take action against him until he’s already gained the advantage.

If society wants the woman to take defensive action only after she has been isolated, restrained, or struck, society is placing the woman’s right to protect herself far behind the man’s desire to avoid being embarrassed by his own behavior.  Clueless or intentional–I don’t care.  The aggressor’s feelings are given a higher value than the woman’s safety.  And frankly, it’s the ones who claim cluelessness who are more dangerous.  If they claim they don’t understand, “Please leave me alone,” they can’t be trusted to understand, “I don’t want to have sex with you,” either.

There is one thing I try to hammer home–for myself as much as for my students–in an attempt to override that societal conditioning:  If someone places an unwanted hand on me, that person has forfeited the right to said hand.  If it is on my body, it belongs to me, to do with as I think appropriate for the situation.  That might mean a pointed but low-key removal of the hand from my shoulder, or a blatant and painful pinky-finger twist, or something more aggressive.

(If my intuitions–which should be trusted–are telling me the man isn’t going to comply with my words, I hope to all that’s worth hoping to I’d do what I’ve been trained to do.  Saying with complete conviction that I’d do X would really be nothing but bravado.  We all hope we’ll know what to do, but it’s after you’ve faced a confrontation that you realize how unpredictable it can be.  Anyway.)

My actual response isn’t as important as knowing, deep down, that a person who harasses me, touches me, and tries to corner me has forfeited the right to polite words and civilized reactions.  I don’t need to be his teacher first, and verbally remind him to be a man rather than asshole.  If he hasn’t already learned, that isn’t my problem to solve nor my fault to bear.

If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.

Really think about that for a moment.  Consider the term “acceptable losses.”  Now put faces to those losses.  Put that in context of what price we’re willing to pay to keep those lopsided and threatening situations from being an “embarrassment.”  The physical and emotional wellbeing of the person  is of less value than the feelings of a man who may choose to pursue a woman who tells him to leave her alone.

Distance = time = safety.  No amount of training can compensate for a societal requirement that the woman wait until she is hurt and restrained before fighting back.

I can’t speak to what Readercon’s decision means to those who are involved or those who have faced similar situations.  That’s for others–who have more con-going experience than I–to explain and discuss.  It’s just this little sliver of self-defense I’m addressing.
Notes:
1.  All of the above applies equally to men who have been assaulted by men or women, and women who have been assaulted by women.  I struggled with what pronouns to use, and decided to default to the genders specific to the Readercon situation for the sake of clarity.

2.  I’ve had women ask me some variation of, “But what if it’s one of your husband’s friends, and he’s drunk, and he doesn’t mean any harm?” My response is some variation of, “But what if the next time he cops a feel, it’s your teenage daughter?”

3. Yes, it’s possible to turn an unwanted hug to your advantage, but not for the average person.  If that nitpick is the best response someone can come up with, I expect it to be followed by, “So let’s give everyone a year’s worth of Krav Maga training!”

All Alone and Safe

100_2828According to many people, I put myself in great danger last week. I took an irresponsible risk. I performed an act that, while totally stupid, required great bravery. I did something many others said that they’d like to do, but never would, because of the danger involved.

What did I do?

I—a 44-year-old-woman—camped in a state park without a human companion to share my tent.

Continue reading All Alone and Safe

My End to the “Strong Female Character” Roundabout

I made the mistake of reading yet another pair of articles examining what it means to write a “REAL” Strong Female Character.

I should know better, truly.  Thousands upon thousands of words expended on the issue! Countless examples and counter-examples in an attempt to make it very clear! Comment after comment debating those words and examples!

And in the end, it’s about as helpful as debating what color the walls ought to be painted while the roof is leaking like a sieve.

I’m a busy woman, so I’m going to make this quite simple and brief:

It doesn’t matter if the sharp pointy thing a woman carries is a darning needle, a plow, a pen, a sword, a scalpel, or a brooch. It doesn’t matter if she wears skimpy black leather, frumpy jumpers, billowing gowns, maternity jeans, heavy armor, or a wimple. It doesn’t matter if she sleeps with everyone, concurrently or consecutively, or if she sleeps with no one at all. If she has kids or hates them. If she spends her time nurturing or demanding. If she talks to women or talks to men, or talks about women or talks about men.

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

Here’s what does matter:

A strong character assesses the situation, accepts responsibility, makes decisions, takes on a leadership role, and initiates action. A strong society doesn’t blink when that character happens to be a woman.

Done.

#SFWApro

The Short Version, Because That’s All It Needs

From The Guardian comes this observant article on the success women are finding in self-publishing.

Reactions can be summed up thusly:

“Let me argue the methodology!  Let me discredit a single line in the article!” — Folks who are certain there wouldn’t be any gender disparity if women would just shut up about it already.

“It’s just because of romance!” — Folks who either failed to read the entire article, don’t want the wrong type of folks playing in their sandbox, or both.

“Yeah, but those women are just lucky.”  Folks who’d rather ignore and/or degrade the achievement of successful women than accept that their success happened outside the traditional scope.

“I don’t need to read this because it’s all bullshit anyway.”  Folks who saw “women” and/or “self-publishing” in the article’s title, and assumed the topic wasn’t worth their time.

“Yep.” — Women who are self-publishing.

#SFWApro

Worthy Regardless

Sword and Chant CoverBack in June, Anne Johnson hosted my guest blog post on writing gender equality in epic adventure fantasy.  Just a couple days ago, this 2011 story got a bump when it was featured on Tor.com.

And it got me thinking…

Let me say from the start that it’s fabulous to see archeologists pay better attention to little details like the sex of the folks they’re researching, particularly when they’re defining the culture based upon that research.  It’s awesome to see the combat-based contributions of women have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the better.

But as tempting as it is to wave that research around — “See?  We can have women in our stories!  History says so!” — it’s important to acknowledge the fact we don’t need to justify our stories. Continue reading Worthy Regardless

Guest Blogging On Gender Equality In Fantasy

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Today I’m a guest at Anne E. Johnson’s blog, where I talk about putting women (plural!) of agency and influence at the core of the story.

Traditional gender roles are hard to combat for the fiction-writer, especially in a genre like fantasy which has a long tradition of distressed damsels being captured and needing saving. Even for a writer who is aware of this problem and wants to defy it, knowing how to let the females drive the story takes a lot of thought and practice. Today’s guest, Blair MacGregor, generously shares her advice.

Read the rest here!

In other news, I’m not changing another word in Sand of Bone until its final edits are sent to me.  That means it’s time to both work on Breath of Stone!

 

Women, Reviews, and Self-Publishing

I thought of writing a long post on the conversation about the visibility of women writers in SFF, but decided it all boils down to this: I am sick unto death of seeing articles and opinion pieces about the need to acknowledge women writers, from publications and groups that refuse to review and include and support women who self-publish.

The most common reason given for rejecting self-published works from reviews, sight unseen, is that there are just too many of them to review. By the same token, there are far too many traditionally published novels to review as well, so there is that. I get it. Making decisions takes time, and it can be difficult to choose which reviews will best please the readership.  Thus it’s easier to set aside a single publication method as not-reviewable.

That reasoning suffers from two downsides. First, the policy cuts out the work of many women whose writing didn’t gain approval from a relatively small audience of editors, but instead found a great audience among readers. It cuts out women who decided they didn’t want to seek such traditional approval, and chose instead to control and direct their own work. It turns away from women who have found success outside the system that the diversity-in-the-genre articles are ostensibly trying to impact.

Self-publishing is empowerment; cutting its existence from the landscape of writers’ options, while pushing for greater visibility of women writers, is rather counterproductive if inclusion is the actual goal.

Second, the policy ensures the publication will be missing out on the broadening conversation readers are having with a number of self-published writers. It won’t affect those readers much, since they’re obviously getting their information from a variety of sources. But there are readers who are entrenched in traditional publications and reviews, and will not venture far from the familiar. Those readers will be missing out on the greater conversation as well.

Again, making decisions takes time and can be difficult.

I knew when I self-published the sort of attitudes I’d be facing from traditionally-oriented reviewers, publications, bloggers, and even other writers.  To act surprised that I’ve found the environment to be pretty close to what I expected would be disingenuous.  I’m simply pointing out a contradiction that troubles me.

The review policies on self-published works will eventually change, likely when it becomes apparent that readers are having conversations the publications aren’t. And when it does change, we’ll be starting the conversation on the visibility of women all over again.

Until then, though, I’ll just keep watching the policies that state a support for women writers, as long as they’re not self-published women, because those self-published women should stay in their own playground.

Well. I guess that became a blog post after all.

UPDATE: This entry was crossposted to my LiveJournal, where writer and reviewer Marissa Lingen added comments about her review policy.  She is currently willing to consider self-published works.  PLEASE read those comments and follow the guidelines if you’d like to submit your work for review.  It would also be helpful to read a collection of posts at her blog so you’ll be clear on what sort of work she does and doesn’t review.

The Conversation Continues

WordPress lets me see the places where others have clicked links to reach my site. I didn’t recognize one of the referring pages that landed on a past post (It’s the Same Advice), so I clicked it to find out where it came from. That led me to a LiveJournal were a person had linked to the above post, and Where the Boundaries Are Drawn (over at my LiveJournal).  That’s cool.

Then, the comment right under it made me laugh:

The moment a woman describes a guy who came onto her as “creepy”, she loses all my sympathy. “Creepy” means, precisely, “a man who is interested in me, but not good enough for me.” All the woman is saying is, “This guy thought he was good enough for me! Isn’t that awful?”

I couldn’t help but leave a response:

That might be your precise definition, but it certainly is not mine. A creeper is someone who does not believe the object of his/her desire has the right to decline said desire. A creeper is someone who is certain the primary reason the desired object declines is either extreme arrogance or complete stupidity. A creeper is someone who believes the arrogance and stupidity can be corrected by the right amount of mockery, insults, ignoring of requests to be left alone, and/or force.

Are there men who aren’t “good enough” for me? Why yes, there are. Men who think the best way to open a relationship is to place hands on private parts of my body, or back me into a corner, or refuse to take a polite “no thank you” as a valid response are, indeed, not good enough for me.

Every person has the right to choose the traits and behaviors they’d like in a partner, and it’s rather odd to see that right couched as a dismissive comment.

I’ve taught women in martial arts for more than a decade now, and I’ve had the chance to watch women decide what sort of shit they no longer need to put up with. As a result, more than one of the boyfriends/spouses faced with changing abusive behavior or losing their significant other have decided I’m a “man-hater.”

Nope. I’m an asshole-hater. There is a difference. Quite a big difference.

Just Us Women

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After a stumble-start last fall, my experiment with a women-only karate class is off to a fantastic new start.  The first class was on Tuesday, with seven women in attendance.

Most uncomfortable moment: Making it clear to my own (male) teacher that he needed to leave the dojo before we started class.  I’d made it clear to the women there would be no men, no husbands, no children in the dojo at all.

Most awesome moment: When everyone walked out the door saying, “See you next class!”

Once upon a time, I was uncomfortable with offering a women-only class.  I’m a staunch believer in men and women training together, and see huge benefits come from that.  Then I chose to listen to the women who expressed a passing interest in karate, but never actually took a class.

Body image.  Fear of judgment.  Fear of failing.  Fear of being the worst one in class.  Discomfort with a physical sport.  Discomfort with being seen enjoying an aggressive sport.  All those reasons and more, I heard over and over from women who murmured their interest in karate to me when no one else would hear them.

I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive environment for new students who are, more often than not, nervous stepping on the mat.  I’ve had kids cry crocodile tears at the start of class, and beg to come back for more by the end of class.  I’ve had adults hesitant at the beginning because of physical limitations realized at the end that I’ll work with them to reach their goals.  But whatever atmosphere my methods and personality create, it wasn’t safe and supportive for a subset of women who wanted karate training enough to mention it, but feared it enough to never try.

So I set out to create that environment.  No men.  No witnesses.  That was a big deal for all of the women who committed to showing up.  Then we talked about the physical stuff, and I shared my Ultimate Karate Dork stories as well as the problems my hip dysplasia caused.  We talked about things women don’t often discuss with men: boobs that get in the way, post-pregnancy body problems, hitting other people.

On the mat, we not only worked hard on technique, but we laughed.  Laughed and shared and enjoyed everyone’s company.  We started on the basics of dojo etiquette, chatted about the boundaries of Sensei-In-Dojo and Blair-In-Supermarket, and acknowledged that it feels very strange to say “Yes, Ma’am/Yes, Sir” at first.  We worked up enough of a sweat that everyone was at least a little sore the next day.  And we spent time listening to one woman sharing an issue she’d been struggling with all day, and we offered support.

Unlike six or seven years ago, when most women I spoke with wanted “self-defense” without all that “karate stuff,” these women want the whole thing.  They want to earn the black belt.  They are working hard, asking questions, making mistakes and corrections.

Three to six months from now, I suspect they’ll all be ready to transition into the standard classes at least once a week.  By then, all those preliminary fears will have been encountered. Best of all, this group of women is helping me refine these ideas by giving me honest feedback.

…and I have to back up, because my hopes are running away with me. 🙂  The true test will be how many of those seven women commit to a longer-term program.  The decision point will be this coming Thursday.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with the two classes we’ve had so far.  I come home happy, energized, and grinning.  It feels like the beginning of a community.

And in the writing news, I suddenly wondered if I should end Sand of Bone 20K words deeper into the larger story.  This is not all that helpful to my stress level, alas.