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April 2013

Heroine Problem

It's hardly worth yelling anymore. News flash: Sexism in genre fiction. Or, another Friday.

• First clue bat of the day goes to Marvel Comics, for pairing two shirts: one male, one female. One says "Be a hero!"; the other says, "I need a hero!" Guess which one is which? I know, we could debate sexism in comics till Doomsday (the event or the villain), but for now, could the home of Black Widow, Elektra, Jessica Jones, Ladyhawk, Rogue and Storm maybe remember that one does not require a penis to be a hero? Face, meet palms.

• Seanan McGuire comes under fire for being nominated for the Hugo. Yes, really. Sure, she says, it's fine if you don't like her stuff. But to criticize her for "overpromoting"? This seems to be a charge leveled at most female authors who promote their work, while male authors are simply seen as assertive businessmen. How many times did McGuire mention the Hugo in her blog? Twice. Wow, talk about saturating the market!

I'd tie that in with Sheryl Sandberg, whose new book Lean In earned her an interview on the Daily Show in which she pointed out something I've never really thought of: Go to a playground, and you will see a girl who speaks up called "bossy." You will never, ever hear of a boy being called "bossy." He'll be "showing leadership skills" or "king of the hill." The worst sexism is the kind that doesn't even recognize itself.

• Author Hugh Howey got temporarily famous by complaining about a woman who he says was rude to him at WorldCon. And nobody cares about rudeness at con - oh, I could tell you stories. What is getting everyone's attention is that he doesn't focus on this woman's statements or attitude... but on her appearance, how ugly he thought she was... "Big-toothed," the "batshit craziest broad," "she-devil" and some reference to a fantasy of accepting a Hugo by calling this woman a name and grabbing his crotch. It ends with the classy and subtle, "Suck it, bitch." In fact, it's delightfully titled, "The Bitch From WorldCon." Her great sin, apparently, was in disagreeing with him in a somewhat condescending manner. Not that anyone else in that room was being condescending, of course.

Setting aside the ongoing class warfare between traditional publishing and self-publishing (soon to become a religous war! Tune in tomorrow!), I'm with Jeff Vandermeer when he writes, "I'm fed up with writers who canonize their path to success as the way to do it for everyone. It's limiting and it shows no imagination or caring for other people. As for the language in this post: just ask yourself, would *you* ever write a post using words like this?"

To give Howey a smidgeon of credit, he admitted on Twitter that the post was "in jest, admittedly with poor humor." Yeah, perhaps "Suck it, bitch," was taken the wrong way.

I'd love to give you something happy to end this, but unfortunately it's been a rough week for the heroines. And now I shall await the cavalcade of critics telling me how I'm Just Too Sensitive and we women need to Learn How To Take a Joke. Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing that.


EDIT: I take it back. I can give you something happy.

Why I'm Not Seeing the Evil Dead Remake

Other than the fact that remakes suck, of course. Nearly every remake I've seen didn't need to be made, with the possible exception of the Dawn of the Dead revisit and ... I'm sure there's another one.

I've never quite understood the fondness people have for the Evil Dead movies. The original was at best diverting, with one glaring exception: the tree rape scene. Let's get right to it: demons possess a tree, a woman stumbles into the wrong part of the forest, the tree rapes her and she is possessed by a demon. Wackiness ensues.

And I do mean wackiness. The camp of the original seems to be what people enjoyed the most. The second was even campier, and by the time we get to Army of Darkness, it's full-fledged nonsense. There's a place for horror comedy, and there are people who do it very well (Jeff Strand immediately comes to mind). It's not really my bag, but not everything has to fall into my wheelhouse.

Onscreen rape has always been a tricky subject. On one hand, it's about the most uncomfortable and disturbing thing you can witness on film, for some (myself included) worse than watching murder. There are valid arguments that depicting rape is the fetishization of sexual violence, that it reflects misogyny, etc. There are also valid arguments that pretending sexual violence doesn't exist is worse than depicting it onscreen. Removing rape from fiction sweeps it under the rug so we can all bop along happily pretending that one-in-three is just a number.

Most recently, I watched the premiere of the new Bates Motel series, which has a weird and creepy vibe to it that I've found moderately entertaining. But smack in the middle of the pilot, (SPOILERS!!!) Norman's mother is raped in the kitchen of the Bates House by the man who used to own the property. It's hard to watch; cringe-inducing, the sort of scene you want to fast-forward and instead settle for watching through your fingers. There's no pretense at making it into something sexual; it's about domination, about revenge, it's violence all the way. And after long consideration, I think it was a necessary inclusion, because it shows us part of how Norma becomes the horror we know she will be.

It's hard to argue that The Accused would have had nearly the powerful impact it had if the horrific gang-rape had taken place off-camera, or that we would understand the actions of the men in Deliverance without the "squeal like a pig" scene. Yes, I included that on purpose, because whenever women writers talk about the psychological impact of watching rape scenes, there is a tendency for men to roll their eyes and accuse us of being too sensitive and overreacting. Yet there are few men I know who can even hear the word Deliverance or hear a line from it without wincing and shuddering, and more than a few who cannot watch the film at all.

On the flip side, we have the disturbing portents of Tyler Perry's new movie Temptation. It's getting quite a lot of negative buzz for some seriously misogynistic themes, but the worst of them - again, from second-hand reports - is that the lead character is apparently raped by a client, then the next scene has her calling up and begging him for more, because he's better than her husband. Roh?

When I saw the promo for the new Evil Dead, I was almost on board. It looked like it might actually be scary, what with that creepy doll-head or something sing-songing its way through the standard you're-all-gonna-die spiel. But then there was that last moment, where a tree-ish hand grabs the attractive young woman's arm. And I knew they'd keep the rape scene.

So I was (almost) glad that Jezebel sent a reviewer to the film. They can watch it, so I don't have to. And what she wrote reinforced everything I was afraid of.

Yes, the woman is raped by the tree. Again. And it's a female demon, so that makes it okay. (Um... no?) And there is the typical backlash of "oversensitive" and "why go see it if you don't wanna be freaked out" and "the original is a classic!" That last one annoys me. Yes, "classic" is important... and it gets a hand-wave at massive insensitivity because it's from another era. Modern-day film doesn't have that excuse.

Here's the crux of it, for me: The original scene was meant to be a horrific violation, the worst thing that could possibly happen to her, and it was. It's supposed to be uncomfortable, awful and cringe-inducing, shocking and creating emotions of revulsion. That's what horror does. However, there is a big difference between rape-as-violence and rape-as-joke.

The Jezebel writer reports that the audience cheered as the woman is penetrated.

They cheered.

Because it's "classic"? By all means, then, let's cheer on the rape!

I don't give a damn if the perpetrator is a demon-possessed tree, a werewolf or a group of teenage football players from Pennsylvania: sexual violence presented as titillation or campy humor is not okay.

Horror is meant to show us the worst that can happen, to scare us and make our skin crawl. It does not have to be social commentary. But what happens in the audience... that can tell us a lot about ourselves. And a theater full of people cheering on a rape, whatever the ludicrous circumstances, tells me we have a damn long way to go.