I just finished Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution (TGFR). Like, just this morning I pulled into work as the last sixty seconds of the epilogue ran out on the audio book. It’s now lunch time, so I’m taking a few minutes to put my thoughts down. And I feel like I have a lot of thoughts.
For those who don’t know, Kameron Hurley is, based on all the attention I’ve seen, an up-and-coming Science Fiction and Fantasy author. I haven’t personally had a chance to read her fiction yet, but her latest release The Stars Are Legion is in my queue. TGFR fell on my radar and I came across an audiobook copy and thought that something different from my usual fiction would be interesting. After all, I consider myself a feminist and a geek, so… why not?
Hurley’s TGFR is a collection of essays and commentary about her experiences as a writer of epic fantasy and hard science fiction who just happens to be a woman. One could easily call each and every piece in the collection a rant, and that’s okay. Because they are justifiably so. But it’s not as if Hurley is just spouting off. For one, everything she says comes at you through the lense of her very specific view point. For number two, she makes a hell of a lot of very salient points.
As I said, I consider myself a feminist and as much of an egalitarian as my subconscious will allow. I support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, I believe in complete and total equality of civil rights for all genders and ethnicities, and I do my best to treat women (or anyone else) just the same as I would a white male without preconceived judgments.
Does that mean I am perfect about it? Of course not. Like Hurley, I was raised in a culture where women are mostly treated as second-class citizens. Now, I was raised by a single mother, so I think that helped, but I was still at least partially molded by those typical stereotypical ideas of what a “man” should be. However, I try to recognize my privilege as a white male whenever I or someone else points it out to me.
When it comes to Hurley’s book, I have to say that I agree with about 95% of it. And, yes, I recognize that for that last 5%, I am a white male, so it may be my privilege that makes the difference. But maybe not. I did find a couple things that I disagree with. I discussed them with my wife, who is, as her favorite T-shirt claims, “Feminist As Fuck.”
Take for example her comments about pin-up calendars. It’s my understanding that Hurley comes to the conclusion that pin-up calendars equate to a form of virtual ownership of women, just a few steps removed (in a fantasy way) of female slavery. In discussing this with my wife, I tried to not lead her to any opinion. And believe me, if my wife has an opinion, she won’t give two shits if it conflicts with mine. I believe I could paraphrase her opinion as being that Hurley may be a little too intense in her condemnation of a simple pin-up calendar. She elaborated by saying that she even appreciated the art and style of the pin-up, just not when they’re exploitative. She even said that she thought it would be a little hypocritical to deride them since she had male-style pin-ups when she was younger.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily using my wife’s opinion as justification for my own leering and misogynist view. For me personally, I’m torn. Part of me thinks that it is sexist in some ways, but I don’t see it as a form of virtual slave ownership. In my opinion, if you’re going to have a pin-up calendar, then it should feature just as many men as women. I mean, there’s plenty of artwork featuring Conan-like hyper-masculine figures in unrealistic poses too. Maybe I’m odd though, in that I could look at an image like that and appreciate it without thinking “Does that make me gay?” (Because I don’t care, really.) I’m not threatened by that kind of thing.
My contention with Hurley on this issue is really pretty minor, though. One thing that did irritate me a lot more was her issue with regard to types of characters. Early on in the book she mentions wanting to write strong, hard women who’ve been bred and trained for killing and death, women who do not necessarily meet the perfect idea of Hollywood’s view of feminine beauty. She wants to write a woman who is hard-edged and doesn’t give a shit about who she pisses off and is completely free to have sex with whoever she wants whenever she wants without any type of judgment.
I completely, wholeheartedly agree with this. My problem is when she then later criticizes the Peter Quill/Star-Lord character in Guardians of the Galaxy as a womanizer. Setting my love for this film aside (since she and I both agree that it’s a great movie), I find this a bit hypocritical. If a female character can have sex with plenty of people without judgment, why can’t he? Yes, he is a bit of a dick when it comes to Bereet the pink girl on his ship, but if we’re going to let people have sex whenever they want without judgment, that just makes him a little self-centered. Which, we already knew since he’s a thief.
These issues are really just a few drops in the bucket of ideas and emotions in this book. Being a bit of a science nerd, I would have liked to see a few statistics about the broader scope and impact of sexism in the United States, but this book is about her experiences. So, I get it. Really, she does a good job clearly laying out the bullshit unfair, denigrating and second-class-citizen ways in which women are treated, especially when it comes to the publishing industry.
Hurley’s arguments are cogent, well reasoned and laced with liberal doses of real-world experience, and that makes them effective. There are a few instances where Hurley gets a little rabid in her feminism, but I don’t begrudge her that. I think she, and every other woman, have every right to get more than a little rabid with it sometimes.
I actually wish men would get a little more (pro) rabid about feminism sometimes too because it’s not just an issue that affects women. There are plenty of ways in which misogyny affect men. Guys are judged based on what some believe is the perfect, masculine, rough and tumble maleness. Many male nerds and geeks grew up being bullied and treated as second-class citizens because they were gentle or not sports-minded or more interested in technology. Hurley doesn’t go into this aspect too much, which is fine because that’s not her set of experiences.
Contrary to its name, feminism isn’t just about women. At its heart, I think feminism is about judgment and privilege. Rather, it’s about NOT judging and recognizing when you might come from a perspective that is different from someone else’s and that their point of view might be just as valid as yours.
And, based on what I’ve seen of how the world is going now, I think a little less judgment and a little more understanding of other people’s point of view is what we really need.