dolorosa_12: (Default)
A lot of people have been sharing Yoon Ha Lee's post, 'The problem with problematic'. In it, [personal profile] yhlee responds to criticism levelled at Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series (the first book of which is up for a Hugo this year) by trans and/or nonbinary readers — criticism which has had the effect of removing a lot of nuance from responses to the series. Worse, as [personal profile] yhlee writes, this criticism has had the effect of erasing trans readers such as himself from the discussion altogether:

All this just to say--readers are so individual in their reactions that "never write something hurtful" is untenable.

I think this is related to the going trend these days, which is to ask authors not to write works that are "problematic." But what do we really mean by that? Analysis of, say, racist or sexist elements in media is valuable, and we need more of it. But sometimes what I see is not that, but "don't write problematic works" in the sense of "don't write things that I consider hurtful."


As I am neither trans nor nonbinary, I'm not going to dictate to trans/nonbinary people how they should respond to Palmer's books (which is not what [personal profile] yhlee is doing, either), except to say that I think [personal profile] yhlee is correct when he says that Palmer's future was a dystopia telling itself that it was a utopia, and that you cannot understand her novels unless you view them from this perspective.

However, like [personal profile] yhlee, I think this response to the Terra Ignota books is a symptom of a wider problem. I saw similar discussion around queer representation in Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant, with a number of LGBT reviewers repulsed by the tragic fate of the book's queer characters, and a small minority adoring the book and feeling like their queer identities were being called into question for doing so. Amal El-Mohtar was one of the latter group, and wrote a blog post along those lines:

I’ve been watching conversations emerging — mostly on Twitter, mostly subtweeting, mostly in fits and starts — trying to categorize responses to the book according to some sort of ticky-box taxonomy of readers. I find this utterly repellent. Some people will suggest that only queer people have problems with the book, ergo it must write queer people’s lives poorly; others will counter with “well, Amal liked the book,” as if that could be the last word on the subject; still others will try to parse whether it’s my Brownness or my Queerness that has shaped my response, in pursuit of some sort of One True Response to the book.


I've not read this book, and again, I have no intention of dictating people's responses to it, or telling them that they should read a story which they are going to find upsetting and hurtful. What I find troubling is the idea that people — particularly those of (multiple) marginalised identities — feeling they have to march in ideological lockstep and respond in identical ways to identical stories, especially if there's an implication that a divergent opinion calls their marginalised identity into question (or that they have to pick and choose between one or the other of their marginalisations, as if responding to a story in a certain way means they've prioritised their identity as a POC over their identity as an LGBT person).

I have my own version of this regarding the rhetoric surrounding the 'proper' way to write women. For various reasons, partly because of my personal history, partly because of my lifelong narrative preferences, I respond much better — and will choose to read, watch or be fannish about — stories where the female characters are survivors of trauma, where their heroism has come at great cost, and where their powers are in spite of misogynistic pushback. I could list a thousand examples, but the first handful that spring to mind include the five Wives in Fury Road (victims of sexual violence), the clones in Orphan Black (who are quite literally viewed as patentable property without bodily autonomy), Jessica Jones in the Netflix TV series (a victim of sexual violence and mind-control), Laia from Sabaa Tahir's Ember in the Ashes series (who voluntarily allows herself to be enslaved in order to spy on her enemies, putting herself at constant risk of sexual and physical violence), Shahrzad from Renée Ahdieh's Wrath and the Dawn duology (a retelling of the 1001 Nights played fairly straight), Una from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy (an escaped slave with a traumatic history that's only hinted at, but which is fairly obvious if you read between the lines), Briseis and Chryseis from the Iliad (captured in war and victims of sexual violence) and Paige Mahoney from Samantha Shannon's Bone Season series, who begins the series in a very Stockholm Syndrome-y situation.

I'm not saying these are the only depictions of female characters that I respond to — some of my favourite stories entirely lack this element! — but these tend to be the fictional characters that are closest to my heart, whose stories I draw on at times when I need courage, and inspire the bulk of my fannish feelings and output. What I don't respond to, and what is very low on my list of narrative priorities, are female characters who enter their stories already powerful, suffer no trauma, and wear their power joyfully and lightly.

And yet I am constantly bombarded (at least in my corner of fandom) with categorical assertions that what female audiences want are untraumatised, joyful, uncomplicatedly happy female characters who revel in their power. This may be true for the vast majority of women and girls — as I said above, I have no intention of dictating others' storytelling preferences. But I'm told, in furious Tumblr post after furious Tumblr post, that the Whedonesque heroine — one who experiences her power as a kind of violation, and who fights at least in part as a response to trauma — is anathema, is unwanted, is hurtful to all female fans. But for me it is precisely this kind of character that gives me courage, because such characters tell me, over and over again, that I as a woman will survive, will be brave, will live on and find power in the support and community of other women, and that women with my experiences will get to be the protagonists of our own stories.

Most of the responses to [personal profile] yhlee's post (outside of the comments on the post itself) seem to have been along the lines of well, this gives us lots to chew on without really engaging in the points made. My feeling is that we'll never progress beyond this point unless people are prepared to talk about the broad spectrum of reactions to stories, and allow for this range of reactions without trying to police people's identities. I have it somewhat easy. I'm not exactly starved for narratives of my chosen type: the world abounds with stories of traumatised women taking back power for themselves, although of course some stories do it better than others. When it comes to depictions of more marginalised identities, the dearth of representation is much starker. This is precisely why the solution to bad or limited representation is not to enforce a uniform response to this representation, but rather to do everything in our power to encourage and enable more representation. (This obviously means significant structural changes to publishing, film- and television-making, and a huge amount of work in amplifying marginalised voices and making creative fields less hostile to creators of marginalised identities.) I believe enforcing a party line when it comes to people of marginalised identities responding to fictional marginalised characters is deeply harmful. I also believe that the cure for this problem is as many stories as possible, so that everyone is spoiled for choice when searching for stories that speak to them.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Last night, Matthias and I braved the Cambridge rains and went out to see Aurora. For those who don't know her music, I can best describe her as another in the long line of fey, ethereal, slightly discordant female Scandinavian electropop singers whose lyrics are vaguely unsettling. Think a calmer Niki & the Dove, a less pointed Karin Dreijer Andersson, or a sweeter Susanne Sundfør. It's very watery music, both in sound and lyrical content.

I'm not the most seasoned concert-goer: I get really tense in large crowds, particularly if they're close enough that I'm going to have lots of strangers touching me, so I have to really want to see the act, so I'm not sure exactly where I'd rank this in terms of Concerts I Have Been To, but it was a very different experience to any other concert I've attended. It was somehow warm and welcoming and meditative, and almost magical, as if she were reaching out and enveloping the audience in a hug, or a blanket. It was interesting to me that so many of the audience — the most passionate of Aurora's fans — were young teenage girls, aged around 13-16 to my eyes. She was so gentle and encouraging to them, and I found that quite precious and moving. It was as if she could relate to them on their level and see the power of the moment — being in the same space as someone they admired and loved — without ever being patronising or minimising the depth of their emotional engagement.

And as for the music? It fed my soul, somehow. The convert came on the heels of a really trying, exhausting, and in many ways upsetting week, and being in that space, in that moment, was exactly what I needed.

My favourite songs from the set (links go to live versions, but not from my concert):

'Black Water Lilies'
'Conqueror' (in this clip, as at our gig, she engaged in what Matthias describes as 'Ronni dancing', which I'll have to admit is true)
'I Went Too Far'
'Through the Eyes of a Child'.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Twelve: Favorite female character in a movie

Ree (Winter's Bone)

Looking back at all the entries I've written for this meme so far, I think I have a type, or at least a few types of character that always appeal. Ree shares several qualities with my other favourites, most notably a very specific kind of bravery. It's a passive bravery: she endures, rather than acts, and she carries the burdens of those around her because others can't bear to. Her father is a drug dealer who's long since vanished from the scene, her mother is suffering from untreated mental illness, and her community has closed its doors to her. Ree is the only person trying to keep things together for her younger brother and sister. When it looks as if her family will lose their house unless she can find her father, Ree refuses to give up, and she embarks on an emotionally harrowing quest to bring him home.

I spoke in my entry on Peaky Blinders that it was a show about trauma, and male violence, and the way the women in the community tried to manage that violence. Winter's Bone explores similar themes, although Ree is too worn down, too cut off to have the power to direct and manipulate male violence in the way the women of Peaky Blinders do. Rather, she seeks to contain this violence in the hopes of keeping it from her door. As she continues her search for her father, she is exposed to greater and greater danger and ever increasing violence, as it leads her into corners the community would prefer to keep hidden.

The whole film has a sort of mythic quality. It deliberately emphasises the elements of katabasis in its story, as Ree's search for the truth takes her further and further away from light and hope. There's a fabulous scene towards the end of the film in which a group of women take her in a small boat on a river in the middle of the night, like some kind of Appalachian Persephone or Inanna. The river is inky, Ree is fearful, the women are stern and offer no comfort, and the whole thing is shot like a journey to the underworld.

Winter's Bone is not a very hopeful film, and you get the sense that the when the credits roll, Ree has succeeded only in keeping the storm at bay for a little longer, not that her life has much chance of improving. She should be able to endure all the torments the world throws at her, but she shouldn't have to.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Recs behind the cut )

For the history lovers out there, I've also got a couple of fascinating videos. The first is archival footage of my Cambridge college (and the wider university) during the 1940s.



The second is something I encountered just today, and is truly amazing. It's a virtual map that traces the growth of London from Roman times to today, and is the best thing I've seen on the internet for a long time. I'm getting a very Troy Game vibe from it!



Finally, I've noticed some people have been complaining about the latest changes to Livejournal. As far as I can tell, I've managed to avoid them because I never chose to have the 'new' friends page (if I wanted have to endure endless scrolling, I'll go to Tumblr), and I'm only seeing differences on the login page, and if I comment on other people's posts. However, I think there's a possible way to avoid them if you go to Display section of the Settings page, and select 'View all journals and communities in my own style' and 'View comment pages from my Friends page in my own style'. That may make things slightly better. The only other thing I can advise is to keep your friends page in the 'old style' as long as possible. I'm not going to change until it's forced on me.

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