The one kind of spoiler that's starting to bother me

I'm not really that bothered by spoilers, generally. They don't really ruin anything for me, they just change the experience. It's kind of interesting to watch things happen with a little knowledge of how things will turn out. It's like a weird hybrid of watching something for the first time and re-watching it.

But lately, there's one sort of spoiler that is starting to bother me that seems to happen with any movie or TV show I'm really interested in watching. Before I have a chance to see it, I see someone talking about why they think it's sexist, or racist, or homophobic, or ableist, or something (or, sometimes, arguing why they think it's NOT despite evidence to the contrary).

Now most things that come out of Hollywood do unfortunately have some imperfections in one or more of these areas. And it is important to analyze and discuss these imperfections. And if a movie has a problem so bad that it would really ruin it for me, I want to know so I don't rush out and spend $20 to see it in 3D IMAX.

But a lot of the time it's pretty minor or debatable problems that I'd love to hear and talk about after I've seen the show, but really don't want to know in advance. I'd like to form my own opinions first. If it's something so minor as to be easily missed, I'd rather enjoy the show and THEN hear about it's flaw instead of go into it watching for the flaw I've heard is there.

I stop looking forward to the show, and instead start thinking, "well, I should probably see that sometime, but I'll probably be disappointed in it" though I have no idea whether or not that is true, since there's often a lot more to a show than that one issue.

I'm not sure what the solution is to this. I can't avoid such spoilers entirely, though I can try to limit the level of information I take in, and try not to take the simple statements I see too seriously. I should not click on links that look like this: and instead trust the recommendations of friends. But I really WANT to click the link and find out how Fury Road supposedly fatshames! I am the sort of person who generally wants to know things, even if I know that the knowledge won't make me happy.

Oh crap, I'm a strong female character, aren't I?

matociquala wrote this essay about problems with the concept of the "strong female character" awhile ago. It listed various problematic traits, and my first reaction as I read the was, "oh crap, I'm a strong female character, aren't I?"

I'm not necessarily a strong embodiment of all the traits listed, but really, many of them are a pretty good description of either me or someone I know well at some point in our lives. So I wouldn't say they're inaccurate so much as overused and sometimes misused (which the matociquala does acknowledge somewhat). The essay made me think a lot about how these tropes relate to real people and to fictional characters, and I'm going to write out some of my thoughts on each of them here*.

Not like the other girls
Well, you've got two options when you're writing a female character. You can write her as a stereotypical female, or you can make her different in some way. The latter is probably going to be more interesting and more accurate/believable. Most real women are, in some way or other, "not like the other girls", it's part of what makes you an individual and (in fiction) an interesting character. Maybe we're physically stronger, or more fearless, or not into certain "girly things", or excel in a male-dominated industry. Sometimes we're even disparaging of other women who are more stereotypically female in ways we aren't (though in fiction that should be portrayed as a negative character trait). Where does the problem come? I suppose when there are too many characters who deviate from the stereotype in exactly the same ways, creating a new stereotype. There's also a problem when the author seems to have a very negative opinion of typical females, and writes atypical females to try to hide it.

Brittle and mouthy
Well, this trait describes many women I know, generally ones who I think are really awesome, but who can really get on my nerves if I have to work too closely with them for too long. The character trait can be a cover for minor psychological issues or be a reaction to the hectic nature of their lives. The problem comes when this these characteristics are pointless and poorly-written, and when there are too many female characters like this.

Trinity Syndrome
She starts out as an awesome female character, and ends up sidelined in favor of a male hero that she previously mentored. This gets listed as a characterization trope, but really, I don't think that's what it is. It isn't who a woman is, it's a thing that gets done to her in a sexist society. Portraying this happening in fiction isn't the problem - the problem is treating it as perfectly normal and unremarkable and okay. You should either show it as something unfair and worth fighting against, or you should rewrite to avoid it happening.

Madonna/Whore Dichotomy
This one is straight-out unrealistic. If you're using this as a characterization trope, making your female characters either "dirty sluts" or "good girls", then you're doing it wrong. We're all more complicated than that. The only place for this in writing is in characters' minds, and then hopefully other characters will point out that they are wrong to think that way (or they will discover it on their own through experience).

Lack of female friends / only woman in the ensemble
Again, this happens sometimes in real life, if you're a woman working in a male-dominated field, or really into a hobby that many more men than women are interested in (going back to "not like the other girls"). But it is way overdone in fiction even when there isn't a reason for it, showing more men than women even when in real life there would be more of a gender balance. Sometimes when efforts have been made to even out the genders, they'll still fail by making only one woman a major role and the other females very minor characters.

I think one of the big lessons here is, don't defy stereotypes by creating new stereotypes. Write people as individuals, and watch how you write gender roles and gender balance.

* Note this is not intended as a rebuttal of the original essay. Some of my thoughts and opinions aren't too different from matociquala's, I'm just taking them and running with them.

"Survivors" vs. "Victims"

There's this trend to use the word "survivor" in the place of "victim", to make the people being referred to feel more empowered. It's most widely used when talking about sexual and domestic violence, but you see it used anytime there is discussion of people who have undergone some sort of extremely bad experience, be it violence, disaster or disease.

I have no problem with the idea of people who have survived some bad experience being referred to as "survivors" of it. But the generic use of the word "survivor" as an all-purpose replacement for "victim" has always bothered me. The more I think about it, the more I detest it.

Because, what about the victims that DIDN'T survive? If, for example, you say your organization "advocates for the survivors of ___", you are explicitly excluding those that don't survive.

"Survivor" can be a pretty broad category, including those who brush off a bad experience and those who are traumatized by it but make it through anyway. But it doesn't include those who are outright killed by the bad experience, or those who initially make it through but then die for some other reason such as suicide or accidental overdose because they can't cope with the pain or memories of what they've been through or how the experience changed them. It might eve make those who aren't sure yet if they are going to make it through feel excluded.

So, if you're intending to refer to all victims of ___, saying "survivors of ___" is not appropriate. So what do you call those who didn't survive? Are they victims now? But if you abandoned the word "victim" in favor of "survivor" because you thought "victim" was demeaning, it's kind of rude to apply it only to those who didn't survive. They weren't necessarily any weaker or more passive than those who survived. There are a lot of factors outside a victim's control that determine survival.

You could say "survivors and casualties of ___" if you want to be inclusive. But it's simpler to just say "victims of ___" and define it simply as "people who have experienced ___" and not apply negative associations to the concept of "victim".
  • Current Music
    The Kinks - "One of the Survivors"

The Amazon Wishlist Saga

Awhile before Christmas, my mother-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her there were some things on my Amazon wishlist. She said, "But it's all books!" I told her that was because books were one of my favorite things in the world, and she said that that made sense then, and that she used to get people books for Christmas but had gotten out of the habit.

Fast-forward to Christmas Eve when I unwrap her gift. It is a boxed set of books on playing minecraft. I don't play minecraft. I've never even looked at that set of books on I meet this gift with a quizzical look.

Apparently she was looking at my wishlist and somehow got off my wishlist onto something else, and thought she was still on my wishlist. She thought to herself, "I didn't know Sharla was so into Minecraft, oh well" and bought it.

We went over to my dad's computer in the next room and I spent a little time helping her process the Minecraft books for return and print out a shipping label. Then we went to my actual wishlist and she had me pick out a couple replacement gifts. I got Brian K. Vaughan's Saga Volume 4 and Ted Naifeh's Princess Ugg. I think these two graphic novels that I don't actually have yet are my favorite Christmas gifts.

Livejournal dream

I think some dreams I have are really not like other people's dreams. I just woke up from a dream that consisted of me reading a mass of comments on a livejournal post I had previously written. The people commenting were all dream characters, not actual people I know on LJ. In the dream, though, I knew some of them, while others had just found the post somehow through friends.

It was mostly writers talking about about books and writing and the publishing industry (the original post was about a book), but some things reminded people of other things and some comments went off on tangents.

There was one tangential comment thread of a musician friend of mine (named Barry) reminiscing about all the bands he'd been in, and I read it and was like, "oh yeah, I'd forgotten that first band, but I heard them play at Convergence way back when HarmCon was in an atrium". None of these bands nor this musician actually exist, to my knowledge, and I certainly hadn't heard of them in real life, but dream memory is funny.

And once again, to people who say "you can't read in dreams", I say, "well, maybe YOU can't read in dreams . . ."

To hell with fear

I've seen been seeing various links turn up in my social media feeds to essays written (generally) by men, trying to explain #YesAllWomen to other men. I've been noticing a theme to some of them, which I would boil down to this concept:

"Guys should watch their behavior in regards to women, because certain behaviors, though they seem innocuous to guys, will cause women to fear them, because they remind the women of bad things that have happened to them or to other women in the past. You may think women are overreacting, but they're doing it because they're afraid, and they might have logical reason to be afraid, because it's hard to know for sure whether a guy is just annoying or if he's going to turn violent if rejected."

So, there might be some truth to that, but still it bothers me. And I'm going to have to say Not All Women to that one. I completely refuse to be afraid of stupid guys who don't know how to cordially interact with their fellow humans. Annoyed? Sure. Angry? Sometimes. Cautious? When it seems warranted. But not afraid. There are things I fear in life, but douchey guys giving me unwanted, inappropriate attention are not one of them.

Letting fear of them effect how I live my life is a waste of my time. In the unlikely event that one of them points a gun at me someday, I'll consider fearing that one, because then I'd actually have good reason to. Until then, no. Knowingly or unknowingly, harassers will USE that fear to get women to tolerate and placate them, to coax them to be nicer and less firm in their rejections of harassment.

Aside from my personal belief of refusing to live in fear and let those idiots win, there's something else that bothers me about the fear explanation. It implies that the reason harassing behavior is wrong is because it makes women afraid. But the fear is really just a side effect, and there are all sorts of reasons harassment is wrong that have nothing to do with fear. It's really more about consent - if you are indulging in a behavior, and if the people primarily effected by that behavior tell you it's inappropriate and that you should cut it out or go away, you need to cut it out or go away, not try to explain why you think your behavior is appropriate.

EDIT: By the way, I absolutely do not mean this as a criticism of anyone else's fear, even if I don't share it. We all have our personal fears, and our personal reasons for them. There may well be other things that I'm terrified of that don't phase you.

"It's military science fiction - written by a girl!"

At one point at this year's Minicon, on a panel about the best science fiction of the previous year, one of the panelists recommended a book in a way that really bothered me: "It's military science fiction - written by a girl!" I think the guy thought he was being funny, but there are a few things wrong with what he said:

1. I wouldn't think of Ann Leckie as a "girl". She is unquestionably an adult woman.

2. Military SF written by women is not even that unusual. Over the years, I've read several works in that genre that were written by women, including some long series. And I'm not even that into military SF! Had that panelist been ignoring them all as "girl stuff" until one won a Nebula? It boggles the mind.

3. Even if this WAS unusual, pointing out that it was written by a woman is a silly way to promote it, opposed to saying that it won a Nebula and is really good. Unless you are trying to point out that it's military science fiction that isn't horribly sexist like a lot of the stuff men write, which would be a valid thing to note, but not really what the guy was saying.

I haven't read "Ancillary Justice yet, but I expect I should, it's supposed to be really good. I don't know much about it yet though, since I was so dumbfounded I tuned out the rest of the guys recommendation.

Musical thoughts - the ease of performing something you wrote yourself vs. someone else's work

Something I realized a long time ago is that I find it much easier to dance a dance routine that I choreographed myself than one someone else has choreographed, even if they are otherwise equal in challenge and quality. Because my own choreography feels right to me and makes sense to me in my mind in ways that someone else's doesn't, even if it is no way superior or easier for anyone else to understand. When I was a senior in high school I was chosen to do movement in a theater piece based on an audition that never tested my ability to learn someone else's choreography, to less than ideal results. Though I could choreograph and dance a complex piece, I sucked at learning to dance someone else's choreography, because it will always full of choices that are not the choices I would have made.

I'm starting to find myself in a similar place with guitar playing, though I've been trying to get past it. Lately I've been writing songs and trying to learn to play them well, and I find it a lot easier than trying to play other people's songs (or, at least, to play them anything like the original). But I want to be able to play other people's songs and to play them like the original, both to learn things from them and also just to be able to play songs I like.

Part of it is that when it is my song, I can say what the right way to play it is, I don't have any outer thing to compare it to. But that's not all it is. There's a song I'm trying to learn. All the chords in it are familiar to me, but getting the chord changes down feels oddly tricky. There's a spot where I need to go quickly from C to A minor, which is just moving one finger but it feels awkward to me, even though in a song I wrote I go quickly from A minor to C. The reverse is harder, for no particular reason, just because it's not a musical decision I made myself.

I'm sure I can get past it with practice though. There are other things that will be harder, though - the big challenge ahead will be syncing up my singing to this strumming pattern that lines up with the singing differently than I would have done.

The Time Traveller's Wife

I caught up on lj-friendslist-reading this weekend, which I was a couple months behind on. Then tonight phoenixredux and I watched a DVD of the film adaptation of The Time Traveller's Wife, a book we'd both read. The movie was not as good as the book, and had a lot of interesting bits cut out of it, but it did get me thinking new thoughts, some of which I hadn't thought before after reading the book (which I think I've reread a couple of times). The main one was something sad . . .

Collapse )

Reframing unhealthy relationship ideas

Someone posted this article to Facebook:
. . . and I thought to myself, "It's easy to come up with healthy-relationship-alternate phrases for some of these":

Turn “I can’t live without you.” into something like "You make me happy to be alive" to remove the creepy "I'd die without you" implication.

What's creepy about “I know you better than you know yourself” is the direction it is being said in. If it's really true, the other person might say things like, "Sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself" or "I love the way you know how I like to be touched."

The last 2 are just plain wrong, though, they don't have a clever alternate.

“You should JUST KNOW…

…what’s wrong/exactly what your partner wants in bed/if someone wants to have sex with you/if you’re serious or casual or exclusive.”

No, don't assume you just know, Communicate, dammit!. Because it's so easy to THINK you know when you don't, really. Unless you communicate, and then you know for sure!

“If you really love someone, you want to keep them all to yourself.”

No. We all get possessive of things sometimes, but possessiveness doesn't mean you care about something, it just means you want it. There's so much more to love than that.