If I Read About Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin One More Time…

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I will roll my eyes right out of my head. I know that’s extreme, especially coming during Women’s History Month where we are celebrating female accomplishment, but I’m done. I’m over it. I quit. And with good reason.

Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin wrote for decades and their speculative fiction is brilliant, loved by both critics and readers. They bring the complex issues of race, gender, and sexuality into their novels, a needed reprieve in a literary corner dominated by white men. But we all know them. If you consider yourself a fan of science fiction or fantasy and haven’t heard of Kindred or The Dispossessed, I’m sorry – I can’t help you.

When most people speak or write about these two authors, though, it feels like a token nod – an obligation to ward off criticism of an all-male or white-washed list rather than a true passion for their work. Because oh, boy – two whole women? One of them black? Just let me check those two boxes on my inclusivity list real quick before I pat myself on the back. On the majority of “best of” or “must-read” lists, these two stand as the only women. On almost every list, Butler stands as the lone person of color. This is unacceptable.

Butler and Le Guin more than deserve to be included in these discussions and I don’t mean to diminish their importance, but throwing them into a list of recommendations and making no effort to include other minority writers is  lazy at best and deliberately discriminatory at worst. It requires no thought and does a discredit to other female and non-white writers, especially ones who are still living and working – Butler passed away in 2006 and Le Guin hasn’t produced a novel in almost a decade. While we should never forget either of these women and their contributions to the genre, it’s time to allow them to pass on the torch to other writers rather than recycling these two as our bastions of diversity.

If you’re looking for some classic science fiction, include Samuel Delany who is still an active author and also wrote Dhalgren – one of the most complex and literary science fiction novels ever produced. If you’re looking for something more modern, try Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor who released her latest novel less than a year ago. If you’re looking for a great series, try N.K. Jemisin‘s Inheritance trilogy. Hell, branch out into translation with Cuban authors Agustín de Rojas and Yoss or Chinese authors Cixin Liu and Ken Liu. But in the name of all things just and holy – don’t recommend one more Butler or Le Guin book to me. Do your research, get creative, and give me some goddamn effort.

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An Ode to Shitty Teenage Love Triangles

I find it upsetting that you think the only thing of consequence
Is that the main female character serve as a conquest
By which the male characters can show they’ve developed, grown,
And also get a little of that girl’s sweet poon.

I find it disconcerting that the only apparent purpose of this woman
Is to look pretty, serve as the object of desire for these two men,
Who use her as a trophy in their testosterone-infused pissing match
Where the lucky winner gets to stick his dick in her snatch.

I find it distressing that you think  this woman should stay silent
Find no problem with this situation – stay wide-eyed, docile, and pliant.
No personality, no ambition, no goals,
Just a convenient vessel for a couple of holes.

I find it alarming that you despise the boy who is kind,
Who doesn’t bully, push, or pry, and appreciates her for her mind
As the wrong choice – the weakling, the wimp, the loser.
Just because he doesn’t want to pump and dump her.

I find it terrifying that you idolize the boy who is bitter,
Who is damaged, unstable, and takes it out on her,
As the right choice – the stud, the champ, the winner.
Just because he’s willing to get down and fuck her.

I find it revolting that the book’s author
Would jot this down and think it proper
Not only to write about an underaged girl’s puss getting used,
Of underaged boys manipulating her for the sake of their cocks and being excused,
But to romanticize neglect, violence, and abuse.

Don’t they have any shame or self-respect?
Oh, wait – they’re too busy raking in our money, no time to reflect.

I find it heartbreaking that young adults
Would look at these taunts, curses, and insults
And instead of being appalled, they daydream about being in his arms,
So that when their real partners begin to scream, strike, and take things too far
They won’t speak up because they think that’s just how things are.

Don’t they understand that they’re more than a focus for male desire?
Oh wait – there’s no other female characters, no role models to which they can aspire.

I find it disgusting that grown adults
Would take an interest in these juvenile ruts.
Would look at these broken, damaged couples and sigh,
Jealous of the girl with an abuser between her thighs,
And praying that maybe one day they will find these kinds of guys.

Don’t they have mature, secure relationships themselves?
Oh, wait – they have these books on their shelves.

So don’t tell me that you’re just a story, a fantasy, for fun,
Because you’re doing some real shit, some awful shit that I ain’t got no time for, hun.

Black Literature Matters

Reflecting on my rather poor performance when it came to reading authors who weren’t straight white men in January, I decided to dedicate February to reading more black authors in honor of Black History Month. As I was browsing offerings online and from my local library, I tried to think of famous black authors – maybe ones I had read in the past – and was shocked to realize I hardly knew any. The only name that came to mind was Toni Morrison, but trying to think of more black authors and black classics just resulted in a blank.

I must have read some literature by black authors in high school, though, right? Some that address black history, culture, or politics? At least one or two. But the two texts I remember reading that were concerned with the black experience were The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin – written by a white man and a white woman respectively. Even in college, the only black literature I remember coming across was maybe a short story or two and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In a total of 17 years of education, I had one memorable black voice in my past. One. The more I thought, the more I realized just how much my education had failed both black literature and myself.

This month, I finally indulged in works like Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Fledgling by Octavia Butler. They gave me an understanding of slavery, racism, and prejudice that my faux-black literary experience or history classes never did. 12 Years illustrated to me the horrors of slavery the sanitized and clinical passages I read in textbooks glanced over, trying to hurry readers along to cover up that ugly part of American history. Souls showed how the disadvantage of black Americans continued long after slavery ended, looking into how that hate and violence affected the spirit of newly free blacks three decades after emancipation. Beloved and Fledgling made the history of Northup and Du Bois personal, taking it to a level that made me uncomfortable, but rightfully and necessarily so.

Even as an educated adult who is aware of events like slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and current racial prejudice, I’d never examined them on an emotional level prior to this month. I’d read about them historically, analyzed them as fact, and thought my work was done. It wasn’t until this month that I was able to feel that history, to understand it beyond fact and begin to reflect on what it must have been like, what it must still be like to be black in America. As a white woman, I will never be able to truly empathize with the black experience, but at least now I have an understanding, a place at which I can begin to sympathize with both past and current struggle when I listen to black stories.

These works were brilliant, beautifully and emotionally written pieces of literature.. These authors speak of their experiences with eloquence and make them accessible, allowing an outsider to explore their stories while still maintaining them as their own. As 

However, we live in a country that silences these voices. A country filled with racial hate and violence where black men and women are killed, dehumanized, and disenfranchised. Where something as seemingly obvious as “Black Lives Matter” has to be campaigned for and is actively fought against by not a few radicals, but by many. Where these issues are put onto the shoulders of blacks – still struggling with the aftereffects of centuries of slavery – who are told fixing them is their responsibility even as they continue to be driven further into poverty and deprived of the resources they need to feed, shelter, and educate themselves, much less excel politically, economically, or socially. Most white Americans watch these injustices at best with casual disinterest and at worst with gleeful malice. They don’t see it as involving them, as being part of their experience – issues like gang violence or police brutality are just too foreign to a middle-class white person, so they marginalize these stories to keep themselves from feeling uncomfortable or guilty.

I think this failure to listen to black stories and foster empathy is where my education failed me, where education everywhere continues to fail its students. Literature has the ability to take these situations, these injustices, and these sufferings and make them tangible, real. A 30-second clip of a black man being shot by a police officer on the news is easy to disregard, to forget about in the course of a day – he becomes a footnote, a statistic. A novel that shows us that same black man’s past, shows us his thoughts and feelings, and shows us the multifaceted political, economic, and social reasons why he ended up in front of the officer’s gun that day is not so easy to ignore or brush off. It gets into our minds, our emotions and sits there, not letting us turn away from the ugliness that we as a country need to face but refuse to.

As Du Bois says, “Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.” This sentence was written in 1903, but is still true over a hundred years later where the divide between white and black is still as apparent as ever. To ignore the incredible power of literature to create empathy, to give someone the ability to look at another person and say, “I want to understand,” is negligent, almost criminally so – it perpetuates a culture that continues to ignore and minimize the victimization of black Americans. No child should make it through 17 years of schooling only having heard one black voice when the power to make these individuals into adults with a nuanced and sympathetic view of race, racism, and prejudice is so easily attainable – simply opening a book.

Greasy Nerds in YA Fiction

There’s this thing about YA fiction where it presents that if you are a “nerd,” you are also inherently greasy. I don’t know why this would be, one would have to do a research on causality to determine whether one is attracted to geeky things like video games, D&D and sci-fi because they have a grease problem or if being attracted to geeky things actually causes your body to produce more oil (both seem unlikely, meaning there’s probably a third variable here because correlation doesn’t mean causation. STATISTICS BITCHES).

Anyway, drawing on all of the memory I have left from my elementary school education, I drew this Venn Diagram to illustrate the traditional representation of teenage (greasy) nerds.

greasy 1 smol

The thing is, there is a fundamental error here in this Venn Diagram. This error is in assuming that there exists a teenager that ISN’T greasy. That’s completely untrue because all teenagers have hormone levels so high you could say they’re chasing puff the magic dragon. Here’s my edited diagram:

greasy 2 smol

You can see here that within the larger circle of people who are greasy are ALL teenagers, and within them the subset that is teenage nerds. Now obviously all teenage nerds are greasy because all teenagers are greasy, reflecting the fact that, I don’t know, being greasy has a lot to do with hormones and isn’t really something people can control? So leave them alone about it?

Moral of this story: puberty sucks.

This fits into my longer, ongoing war with the dumbing down to a dichotomy of nerd representation in YA books.

(S/O to Guy in Real Life for inspiring this rant. What a fucking hot mess nerd representation is in THAT book)

An Ode to Female SciFi Characters

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I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as weak,
Staying quiet, docile, and meek,
A victim and a whiner,
Waiting to be coddled by someone with a wiener.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as dumb,
Not understanding the uncertainty principle or the vector sum,
Staring gape-mouthed at their genius,
Waiting to be enlightened by someone with a penis.

I’m sorry you are portrayed as slutty,
In a man’s hands becoming putty,
Stripped down to your panties in interstellar space, a fool,
Waiting to be banged by someone with a tool.

But I’m also sorry that you are portrayed as strong,
A “badass bitch” who’s fought too long,
Who won’t let down her guard and is quick to anger,
Waiting to be tamed by someone with a pecker.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as smart,
A know-it-all filled with snark,
An arrogant and haughty snob,
Waiting to be humbled by someone with a knob.

I’m sorry that you are portrayed as prudish,
Puritanical, uptight, and priggish,
Flustered whenever a man so much as casts you a look,
Waiting to be impassioned by someone with a cock.

I’m sorry that, no matter how bright and capable you are, your final reward
Is a lackluster relationship with a man and his pork sword.

I’m sorry.