Tag Archives: books

Book Club: Three times a Geek Feminist walked away from Omelas (and two times she didn’t)

1. The most straightforward case

I tried out for a teaching gig at a riding school near where I grew up. The place was rundown and their safety standards were not up to mine: I had to insist on the students wearing helmets, and I had to double-check that everyones’ girths were correctly buckled, and there were complaints when I didn’t let the rank beginners gallop their horses around. Despite my best efforts, the horses flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another. It’s what horses do.

All through our lesson, helicopters hovered over the bush nearby; and the trail ride that had gone out failed and failed and failed to come back.

It transpired that they had taken out a woman who had no English and no helmet, and her horse had bolted with her and she had fallen on her head, and the helicopter was her airlift out.

I thanked them and told them that I was no longer interested in the job. I heard, later, that she had lived, albeit with traumatic brain injury.

2. Ambiguity

Straightforward cases are rhinoceroses. They’re not quite unicorns, in that they do exist. They are just very rare.

The Sydney Anglican Church has a generous helping of Omelas. At its summer camps, bright-towered by the sea, the sunlight sparkles in the rigging of boats. Sandstone churches nestle in moss-grown gardens. At least when I was growing up, there was altogether too much shimmering tambourine. Glebe – an inner-city suburb that belongs to the church, an old word meaning the clergyman’s benefice and income – is nothing if not great parks and houses with red roofs and painted walls.

The parish to which I belonged had more Omelas in it than most. There was a room with a locked door, and in that room was a child. It was not defective and it was not dirty, but it was abused.

It would be satisfying to say that I walked away from the church because of the child. Satisfying, but untrue. I walked away – stumbled away, rather – because I was lied to, and it broke me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out about the child, and understood what had happened to it as of a piece with the rest of the lies.

What is true is that I can no longer remember my childhood’s sparkling boats or the old people in their robes or the music without thinking, with fury and anguish, of that child in the locked room.

Intermission: A song for Le Guin

You were the tattered paperback on my sister’s bookshelf; you were my endlessly overdue library books; you did a reading at a bookstore in the Haight the week of the September 11 attacks. Do you remember? I was the young woman in the back quietly weeping. Well, I was one of them. You taught me the true name of the shadow, and what dragons are. You taught me how to revisit my old stories and rewrite them. You showed me what I wanted to be: a mind always reaching out, reaching out to be whole. You are my Great Bear and my Master Doorkeeper. I love you.

3. A disorderly retreat

Not surprisingly, then, one of my abortive PhD proposals was on feminist scifi, and perhaps in one of my alternate-universe lives I hold the Ursula K. Le Guin Chair in Postcolonialist Speculative Fiction (is this a real thing? Because it bloody well ought to be.) In this life I have a master’s degree and am a professor of nothing, because even in 1994 when I graduated, no matter how many times I ran the numbers, I could not find a way to stay in the academy and indulge an expensive passion for equestrian sport.

More frighteningly, very few of the scenarios I ran included the ability to keep much of a roof over my own head. When I looked around at my peers and the cohort ahead of me in graduate school, their lives and prospects could best be described with words like “monastic” and “austere.” Twenty years later, when I look at the academic careers of young people with qualifications like mine, I come up with words like “predicament,” “soul-destroying” and “ongoing scandal.”

Once again, I wish I had left the academy because I was taking a principled stand against the exploitation of grad student labour. In fact, I grabbed whatever I could carry and fled.

Epilogue: Living and working in Omelas

Whether you walk, stumble or flee from Omelas, it turns out the worlds beyond the city have something in common: locked rooms in which children are being held prisoner. I live in San Francisco now, and on our good days my friends and I might qualify as mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives are not wretched. (On our bad days all bets are off.) With one voice, the authorities in our lives insist that the price of our happiness includes torture, drones, and the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. I don’t know whether this is true, but I know that I am complicit in these atrocities.

And then there’s White feminism and its history of racism (and its histories of ableism and classism and transphobia and and and.) I’m a feminist to my bone marrow, but I’ll be damned if I’ll obtain my own liberation at the expense of anyone else.

I used to think the answer to the challenge of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be for the walkers to join forces, fly back to the city with helicopter gunships and free the child by any means necessary. Now I think the best we can do is practise vigilance. To watch out for people who might be locking children in rooms. And to refrain from locking children in rooms ourselves.

Have you walked away? What’s it like where you are?

Announcing Geek Feminism Book Club!

The Long Room, Trinity College Dublin

Folks, we’re delighted to announce the launch of the Geek Feminism Book Club, dedicated to:

  • geek discussions of feminist books,
  • feminist discussion of geek books, and
  • geek feminist discussions of books!

Our immediate models are (for this author, who is lowbrow) the Hairpin’s Classic Trash feature, and (for Mary, who is not) Crooked Timber’s much weightier Susanna Clarke seminar. Other inspirations include the late, lamented Racialicious Octavia Butler book club and the literary discussions hosted by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I expect we will meet somewhere in the middle…

In any case, it’ll work like this. Each month, starting this month, we’ll pick a title together. A month later – to give participants time to get and read the book – we’ll open a thread for discussion. We’ll try to include books available under CC licenses and/or available in electronic formats. If the community picks a book that can’t be had except for cash, we’ll set up a scholarship fund to try to ensure open access.

Here are some of the books we’ve thought about for the kickoff on Thursday February 28th. Vote for your favorite below! Suggestions always welcome!

  1. Biella Coleman, Coding Freedom
  2. bell hooks, Writing Beyond Race
  3. Ursula Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
  4. Sarah Schulman, The Gentrification of the Mind
  5. Gail Simone, Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection

ETA: The voting period is over, and we have a tie! Full results are here, but to summarize: Le Guin and Simone both got 14 votes, hooks 9, Coleman 8 and Schulman 7. I suggest we start with (drumroll):

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas on Thursday February 28th

and then read

Batgirl, Vol. 1 on Thursday March 25th.

In fact, since there was so much enthusiasm for all five titles, what about reading the hooks in April, and so on? We can have another vote when we work our way through these five.

(Oskar, you’re right, we should definitely try that polling thing. Making spreadsheets by hand feels very second-wave…)

amongothers

Quick Hit: Women Win Nebulas!

It is so splendid when excellent people are recognized for their excellence! It’s delightful that Octavia Butler won a posthumous Solstice Award and that Connie Willis was given the Damon Knight Grand Master Award. And! I am personally over the moon that Jo Walton’s Among Others won the 2011 Nebula.

I loved this book so very much and if I haven’t already forced it into your hands, you are to imagine me doing it now: this is a geek feminist coming-of-age novel, and it is full of wonders.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Flying by the seat of my linkspam (29th July, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Feminist license plates, by Liz Henry CC BY-SA 2.0

Geeky books for under 10s

This is a guest post by Katie Zenke. Katie has been writing about children’s books for almost ten years and occasionally writes about them in various places online. She even has a blog that she sometimes updates at Pixiepalace.com. For several years she also worked in (and was the lead of for part of that time) the childrens and teen departments of one of the largest bookstores in the midwest. One of these days she plans to officially work in the book world again.

Katie is lending her expertise to answer this Ask a Geek Feminist question:

Is there a good series of books for tech-loving less than 10yo kids that isn’t sexist?

The Zac Power series seems OK for what it is, apart from the fact that they have an unreasonable division of good characters being male and bad characters being female.
The main good characters are Zac and his brother Leon, while Caz and her sister Leoni are two of the main bad characters.

Another problem is that those books have a lot of anti-nerd propaganda, which has got to be bad for kids who are destined to be called nerds in high school.

Is there a geeky modern Enid Blyton out there?

It is sadly true that finding good books for kids that are feminist is far more difficult than it should be, however they absolutely do exist. I wanted to highlight some of the great books that we can share with kids that do have feminist themes and content.

The list is roughly organized by age, but keep in mind that kids are all different and one ten-year-old might be reading early chapter books while another is totally ready for the more dense novels to be found in the middle-school and high school lists. Kids also have their own individual interests and preferences (even little kids), so just as you might buy a mystery for your mom but never for your girlfriend, make sure the kid you’re getting the book for likes the topic or genre first! Continue reading

autoplayer

Music geekery

Didn’t we link to this geek hierarchy? I just searched the GF blog and can’t find it. Anyway, SURPRISE! All forms of geek on the hierarchy are male! At least til you get to the very bottom of the list and the fanfic writer has a bag over zir head. There’s a whole nother article to be written about the presumed and actual gender of fanfic writers, but I wanted to talk about the top of the geek hierarchy: the music geek.

Undisputed King of the Geek World, the Music Geek is without a doubt the most socially acceptable. For some reason you can be totally obsessed with going to music store after music store looking for that rare Australian-only single release by your third favorite indie band, and nobody’s going to think you’re weird or “eccentric” for doing so. This geekdom is the “coolest” because it does not repel women, and many of these geeks actually go out in public regularly to see bands perform, so they tend not to be socially awkward hermits.

*pounds head gently on desk*

As some of you may know, I’m quitting my job in the tech industry and going into music. It’s given me some pause for thought wrt my geek identity, let me tell you. But fuck it, I can be a music geek, and a geek in music, and/or a geek who combines tech and music. Whatever.

Anyway, on that note, I just wanted to post a quick link to an article on one of my favourite music-geek blogs, Pam’s Newsprint Fray:

Earlier this week, Pitchfork published a list of their 60 favorite music books. It is pretty wide-ranging and there are many good books on the list. (And some I really hated.) But only one was written by a woman, and two had lady coauthors. Come the fuck on.

Pam then offers us:

TWENTY-FIVE (ISH) AWESOME BOOKS ABOUT MUSIC
that happen to have been written by ladies

or at least co-written in a few cases

I’m definitely adding a few of these to my to-read list. Meanwhile, talk to me about music geekery, being a female music geek and/or geek in music, etc?

Row of women archers, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections CC BY 2.0

Quick Hit: Dogs and Smurfs; Why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously

This has been a great year for male writers, with women shunted aside for major prizes and all-new hand-wringing about why it is so. Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but male writers get taken more seriously. Also, stories about men, even if written by women, are considered mainstream, while stories about women are “women’s fiction.” This despite the fact that women read more than men, and write more, and are over-represented generally throughout publishing.

As the father of two girls, one aged five and one ten months, I know why. It’s because of dogs and Smurfs. I can’t understand why no-one else realizes this. I see these knotted-brow articles and the writers seem truly perplexed. Dogs and Smurfs: that’s the answer.

Read the rest here. I don’t think it’ll be news to any of you, but it’s a nicely put together article worth sharing.

More linkspam than sense (6th January, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

From comments: women in science, their history as told by… men?

A few strands are coming together in comments.

First, our linkspam linked to Richard Holmes’s The Royal Society’s lost women scientists, and Lesley Hall then commented:

I’m somewhat annoyed at all the coverage A MAN talking about lost women scientists is getting, when we have several decades-worth of women historians of science who have been saying the exact same thing. This seems to me pretty much the standard thing of no-one listening until it’s said by a bloke (even if the women have already been saying it).

Meanwhile on the Wednesday Geek Woman post on Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Chronic Geek asks:

As a side note. I have been searching for a good book on a history of women in sciences. Can anyone recommend one?

The following have already been recommended:

  • Margaret Wertheim (1995) Pythagoras’s Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender War
  • Julie Des Jardins (2010) The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science

Lesley Hall herself also has a book chapter: (2010) ‘Beyond Madame Curie? The Invisibility of Women’s Narratives in Science’ in L Timmel Duchamp (ed), Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles.

For readers just starting out on this, what works would you recommend on the history of women in science and the invisibility of women in science? What women historians of science do work you love?