Oct 25, 2016

A Much Needed Statement

Inci Asena German on The Geek Feminist Revolution

I’ve been meaning to write about Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution for quite some time now. It’s one of those books I devoured as soon as it came out and I’m pleased to see that it has been in the Otherland top-ten-list since last August.

This book is basically a collection of Hurley’s blog entries and some of her new essays. To be honest I hadn’t and still haven’t read anything else by Hurley (although her fiction has now made it into my tbr pile) nor did I know about her blog before The Geek Feminist Revolution. But that’s mainly because I rather prefer clear-cut science fiction.

I also enjoy reading non-fiction very much and I’m a sucker for everything written as and about SF. So mainly because of its title I was expecting a very matter-of-fact kind of book full of academic feminist terms, theories and deep cultural analyses of books and films. I’m not saying that it’s no good as a secondary source; in fact there are plenty of these too. It’s just that I was expecting a very different tone overall and I needed to do some adjusting. As soon as I did though, I was genuinely delighted by how personal and honest this book actually is. And I appreciate the fact that it’s written for everybody to understand.

“I would tell any woman writing in online spaces today that this is one of the best times to be a geeky woman creator on the internet. Because what the small, angry groups of detractors know, and what we are all waking up to understand, is that there is a revolution going on, and we’re winning it. The stakes are high – not just who gets to play, who gets to create, but who gets to speak.

Kick-starting with this strong and much needed statement, Hurley goes on to describe the hardship of hanging on, of making it as a woman in any professional area but mostly as a writer of speculative fiction: lack of credibility, sexualized threats on the internet, stereotypization… What first startled, but very soon impressed me deeply is the fact that she does this by prevalently drawing on examples from her own life. And it takes a lot of guts to be as open as she is about some issues such as being noticed as an overweight woman, financial failures or the chronic illness she battles. Of course not in a tear jerking, but in a very, very empowering way. And I say this as a person who thinks that the term "empowering" is nowadays unnecessarily overused.

In the chapter “Geek”, Hurley gives us a couple of movie analyses that are very very enjoyable and are pretty close to what I was expecting to find in this book initially. I’ll try not to give away too many spoilers, so I’ll keep it as short as possible.
First off she takes a look at the first season of True Detective where she focuses on the “monster in men”. I particularly enjoyed reading this one and wished it was longer, not only because I really liked the show.
The entry on Die Hard starts as a kind of tribute to a movie that she calls “one of the best-written films out there”, a movie that attempts to show the role /place of men in a world in which women start to earn more power. Based on one particular scene she then focuses on the “pin-up” image that has been attributed to women and the meanings of this attribute.
“Wives, Warlords and Refugees”, of course, is about Mad Max Fury Road. I can’t read enough about this movie, I can’t watch it enough times and I’m curious about everything anybody has to say about it. So I was thrilled when Hurley mostly took the words out of my mouth and at other times made some very accurate observations that made me aware of things I hadn’t noticed before. If you've seen this movie, even if you didn’t like it, I’d definitely recommend reading this article and then watching it again, it just may change the way you see things.

Hurley further spends a great deal of time explaining the constructed masculinity of those we have come to accept as “heroes”, expectations of sexuality and definitions of “strength” in the genre and how these concepts are in the point of changing. 

What this book does best, I would argue, is to take a candid look behind the scenes of SFF: from the Gamergate mess to the Rabid/Sad Puppies-slates, to specific online hate campaigns. And having read it, I understand that somebody needed to do exactly what Hurley does. She also does a great job drawing the right conclusions from these incidents in terms of diversity and systemic rejection of women in the circle of speculative fiction writers.

I don’t always agree with Kameron Hurley. I think that some of her assertions are contradictory, which can easily happen when you get as personal as she does. For instance, in a very personable attempt she wants to “unpack the 'real writers have talent' myth”, but a few chapters later can’t contain her admiration for an author whose writing she describes as "[the kind of] short fiction I wished I was talented enough to write”.
Her entry Becoming What You Hate is full of points I don’t really see. Particularly comparing Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree to the internet troll "Requires Hate", simply on the grounds that they were slipping into another persona while acting, is in my opinion more than unjust. Yes, Sheldon pretended she was someone else in order to gain recognition, to be seen and heard in the world of predominantly male SF authors, but she didn’t intimidate, threaten or insult other people, especially female authors who were then too cowed to keep on writing. So I find that the mere mention of Tiptree in this context is uncalled for.
I also disagree that the concept of "strength" is culturally related to virility to the extent that she argues it to be.

But, much like in a good discussion, I surely don’t have to agree with everything she says to enjoy her book. Based on my opinion and on the reaction of Otherland’s readership, I really believe that The Geek Feminist Revolution is holding great potential to become one of the cornerstones of the non-fiction division of the genre and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is or isn't interested in the subject.

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