This requires no more introduction than saying it’s a handful of thoughts worth considering and working through after the last week.
1. My feminism isn’t about making you comfortable.
As a feminist, I am not obligated to make you comfortable. As a feminist, what I owe is honesty, integrity, and truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Not liking my feminism is your problem, not mine.
2. Being part of an oppressed class means using subversive means.
Having a conversation in a calm, collective, “professional” manner depends entirely on how we define calm, collective, and “professional.” Those definitions are made through those in positions of power and privilege. And when the powerful class doesn’t want a critical lens turned on them, they will deny the oppressed class those calm, collective, “professional” tools.
So you do things in the way you need to to achieve a desired effect. Satire. Humor. Sarcasm. Protesting.
Those who don’t want to be criticized and don’t want to face the truth won’t listen to you anyway, so you do what you can, how you can, in order for everyone else to hear and understand.
3. Means, methods, tools, and places for criticism vary.
You can’t use the same critical tools in every situation. Your methods depend entirely upon your goal and on the subject and situation at hand. When talking about an issue of sexism, if talking about the texts at hand won’t do the job, then you pick up the next tool available to you. This includes public commentary and interviews.
Sometimes a blog post is effective. Sometimes Twitter is effective. Sometimes Tumblr. Sometimes the best tool isn’t online at all but in an interview in person. On a panel discussion. During a Q&A.
If one tool doesn’t work, you pick up another.
4. White male allies need to step back.
Quit patting yourself on the back for “empathy,” “niceness,” or “feminism,” especially if you’re a “nice, empathetic, feminist white guy.”
Use your platforms and your privilege to amplify the voices of the oppressed. You don’t need to interpret it through your perspective. Let others have your stage for a bit and listen.
As Eric Mortenson put so well — and this is hands down one of the best things I read this week: “If you’re really on women’s side, you don’t need to tell them. They’ll know.”
5. We love amplifying the white male ally voice.
Take a hard look at whose voices you’re relating to and sharing. If it looks like a sea of white men, reassess.
Watch who you’re crediting when you’re crediting an internet “kerfluffle.” Watch who you’re crediting when you’re crediting a discussion of sexism in publishing.
Bet it’s not the same people getting credit.
6. When you speak in generalities, people insist on examples. When you provide examples, you’re called a bully.
When you talk about institutional sexism in a broad sense, people want explicit examples. But when you provide explicit examples, you’re a bully for doing the very thing you were told you needed to do in order to prove your arguments legitimate.
7. “Nice” doesn’t mean above criticism.
Plenty of nice people screw up every day. Plenty of nice people have good intentions.
Your “niceness” doesn’t mean you’re above being critiqued or above being called out for a thing you did that’s not good. Your “niceness” doesn’t absolve you from responsibility. Your “niceness” has zero bearing on what you create and the art or thought you put out in the world.
8. Art and artist are not one in the same. It is HARD to separate art from artists, as well as art from personal taste.
We are complex, challenging creatures. We don’t always know what we’re doing when we’re doing it. We don’t always know what we’ve created until it’s outside of ourselves. Let’s be generous enough to allow artists to live separately from the art they’ve created.
Art and artist are also separate from personal taste. You may find someone’s art distasteful; I may find it enjoyable. That is not a reflection upon the artist or his talent.
9. Girls don’t get points for experimenting. They have to get it right the whole way through. Men are right when they try, even if they fail.
“Trying” to be better isn’t the same as being better. Especially in a world where women can never be right and are never getting better.
“Trying” doesn’t pass for women.
10. We insist we love critics and criticism until the heat is on.
Back in the day, artists used to critique one another and did so harshly. There wasn’t fear that saying something critical about another artist’s work meant doom for your own career.
Now that we rely on outside critics more often than not, in the form of trade reviews and yes, blog reviews, we constantly talk about the important role those criticisms play. Those who take this seriously do so because they care deeply about the art and they care deeply about representation, voice, accuracy, and a whole host of other things.
But as soon as critics start to actually criticize art, suddenly, they’re out for blood. They’re the enemies. They have a vendetta.
11. Criticism isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t fun.
It would be worthwhile to praise those critics who work with the heat is on high as much as it’s worthwhile to continually pat those on the back who praise things generously, with less criticism.
There are people who are absolutely, positively dedicated to change and fair representation. They put their criticisms out there every day in hopes of sparking change.
It’s not easy.
It makes us BETTER.
12. You don’t get to determine whether someone’s concerns about sexism, or any other -ism, is correct or incorrect.
Just because it isn’t sexist to you doesn’t mean it’s not sexist to those who are speaking up about it, as well as the legions who are too scared to speak up or don’t have the means to speak up.
13. Nothing is either/or, but/and. Everything is a spectrum. Everything is complex.
Calling out a weakness in an author’s work — or a series of work — doesn’t mean that the rest of the work is done poorly. Badly drawn female characters are not an indictment against how the boys are written.
Suggesting that girls should be fully developed characters doesn’t take away from boys being fully developed or being the absolute center of the story. It’s not saying the books are bad.
It means readers want these stories, where both boys and girls are fully developed.
14. Sometimes people who are “outsiders” have to speak up because insiders are too close to the source.
Outsiders are reading the criticism. They offer a perspective that those too close to the art could never offer without bias.
Critics put their work out into the world for outsiders, not insiders.
It’s your job to help your friends and colleagues. It’s not mine.
15. Being called out sucks. Learn and do better.
We are all problematic. We are not without fault. And when you’re called out on something, it sucks, especially if you were trying everything to not be wrong. Sometimes you still are.
I am not above being called out. You are not above being called out. No one is.
Learn from your mistakes. Listen to those who are offering you insight. Then DO better. When you’re given the chance to learn from your mistakes, take it.
It takes privilege to leave the conversation before it’s over. And certainly, when you decide you’re exiting a conversation, rather than acknowledging it’s even happening — even with a simple “I am busy and can’t talk about this right now but will soon” — you’re not listening.
Listening means sticking around for the hard parts.
16. There aren’t fair levels of scaffolding in this industry. Be aware of yours and what others are.
Critics don’t usually have agents, editors, publicists, publishing houses or any other level of scaffolding behind them. There aren’t other people to step in and do damage control or offer up insight into process.
If there are people on your side with a financial stake in your career when you go up to bat for something, are selling a product, or creating art, you’re damn lucky.
17. You don’t get to invoke someone’s personal life as an excuse or value judgment. That’s theirs and theirs alone.
You aren’t empathetic or understanding when you invoke my mental illness as part of your “being understanding” of what I may be going through when I speak out. You also aren’t entitled to bring someone else’s personal life into the explanation for their creative weaknesses.
Those things are personal and the individual owning them is the only person who gets to invoke them in discussion, even if they’ve been open about it.
18. If you express criticism directly at someone, you’re a bully. If you don’t, you’re subtweeting/talking about them behind their backs.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. See #6. See #12.
19. Criticism isn’t bullying.
The purest definition of bullying is this: when a person with superior strength or influence uses their their influence to force a person to do what s/he wants.
Speaking up about sexism isn’t bullying.
Being told you should die and never come back or else you’ll be given a reason never to come back is bullying.
20. No one likes being called a cunt, a whore, a bitch, a pain in the ass, and no one deserves to be told they should be given something to be scared about.
Women don’t often engage in conversation about sexism because they are fun and the rewards are high.
21. People go to the ends of the Earth to defend a nice guy. People don’t defend women in the same way.
See: #KeepYAKind, #GrasshopperGate, #AndrewSmith, change your avatars to a Smith cover, buy all of the Smith books, give away all of the Smith books.
The only reason I (and others, all female) knew people cared about me or defended my right to say what I did and how I did it was because I was reached out to.
Those who agree with you most are the ones with the most to lose if they speak up. Speaking up without fear of career consequence is a privilege I have that many others in this industry — those who experience the DIRECT CONSEQUENCES OF SEXISM IN THIS INDUSTRY THIS IS DIRECTED TOWARD IN THE FIRST PLACE — do not.
Because that’s how institutionalized sexism and racism work.
22. True feminism isn’t about ideation. It’s about action.
If you don’t put your money where your mouth is, you’re not working toward a solution to the problem. You’re hot air.
You can’t just believe in change. You have to be an active part of doing something about it.
And it’s not only about women. It’s about ALL classes of people that face oppression.
I assure you straight white males are not part of the oppressed. Even if they think they are.
23. These conversations are born from hurt
No one decides overnight to highlight direct examples of sexism.
They are the result of people being hurt over a long time.
24. I have the right to speak.
The risk of speaking up for women, as a woman, is great and often ends in threats of violence and death. When I told another woman I don’t know how some feminists do this every single day, she said, “If you stay, as a woman in this fight, you end up steel whether you want to or not.”
For further reading:
- Sarah McCarry On Kindness
- Leila Roy on If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say
- Phoebe North on Why