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Sharing my Own Privileged Dumbassery

This is going to come as a tremendous shock to people, particularly my wife and children, but I am not, in fact, perfect.

When I write about things like sexism, racism, bullying, homophobia, etc. in SF/F circles or society in general, I do it because I believe it’s important. But I also do it because it’s personal, both because so many people I love and care about are directly affected by these things, and because — having grown up in this society — I’m still working on my own assumptions and behaviors.

I came across a blog post discussing the Hugo nominations. (I’m trying to avoid these discussions, because they do bad things to my brain, but that’s a mess for another post.) In this one, someone was pointing out that for the past six years, the Best Fan Writer category has had only a single female nominee each year (or in 2007, no women at all).

As I read, that privileged, sexist crap I complain about came crashing through my head. My brain was a bingo card of dumbassery.

  • Wait, is she saying I only got on the ballot because I’m a guy?
  • People shouldn’t vote based on gender. It should be about the writing!
  • Why oh why has fandom declared War on Penises?

Okay, I’m exaggerating with that last one. The point is, my initial, gut-level response was to take it personally, and to go through some of the same reactions that piss me off when I see or hear them from others.

You know what? They piss me off when they come from me, too. Because the poster is absolutely right. There are brilliant, powerful, amazing women writing out there, and it speaks ill of us that we’re not recognizing more of them.

Nobody’s saying I only got on the ballot because I’m a guy. I don’t believe anyone looked at their Hugo ballot and said, “Well, I like Cat Valente, but Jim Hines has a Y chromosome, so I’m nominating him instead. Go Team Penis!”1

But does the fact that I’m a guy give me an advantage? Yeah, it does. I have more freedom to write whatever I like, with less fear of backlash. I’m given more respect and authority when I write, I’m taken more seriously.

That’s not a comfortable thing for me to acknowledge. I want to believe that everything I’ve achieved has come 100% from my own inherent awesomeness … but it just ain’t so.

This doesn’t change the fact that I’m a good writer. (That’s right, I said fact! My ego blows raspberries at the haters!) It doesn’t change how honored I feel to be on that ballot. It doesn’t diminish the things I’ve achieved. What it does is start to acknowledge the reality of the context in which I’ve achieved those things, the advantages I’ve been given.

None of us are perfect, and most of us have absorbed ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that we need to work on. It’s hard, sometimes painful work to dig up and examine those beliefs, and to start to change our behaviors.

But it’s important work. And it’s work I hope and expect to be doing until the day I die.

  1. It’s been correctly pointed out in the comments that having a penis or Y chromosome does not equal being a guy, and vice versa. It’s not that simple or straightforward.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 114 comments — Leave a comment )
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mtlawson
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
Well said, Jim.

I can't help but think that some of your detractors have already figured you've given up your Y chromosome already, so they probably think you're a lost cause already.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm almost certainly a lost cause in many, many ways :-)
(no subject) - mtlawson - Apr. 10th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
sueo2
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
huh.
When I think of fan writers my mind automatically defaults to female. Is it possilbe this is the case with most people so they inadvertantly look to special examples from the opposite gender?

Just putting this out there. I have no idea what the real reason for the discrepancy is.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
Re: huh.
I guess it's possible, but Occam's Razor would suggest a simpler explanation, like people just think men are more award-worthy.
Re: huh. - sueo2 - Apr. 10th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: huh. - jimhines - Apr. 10th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: huh. - dr_phil_physics - Apr. 10th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: huh. - green_knight - Apr. 11th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC) - Expand
highway_west
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
Some thoughts
There is an infinate amount of awesome in the universe.

Pointing out the awesome in one direction doesn't negate other awesome.

Here is what I suggest.

If people think that some fan writers were overlooked, make a list of the ones you believe deserve to have been nominated and then promote your fancy list. It won't be quite the same as a Hugo nomination, but I'm sure the writers will be tickled that they were noticed. (I know that I would be.)
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Some thoughts
Acknowledging and pointing out awesome writers, particularly those who might be overlooked or underappreciated, is always a good strategy :-)
Re: Some thoughts - snapes_angel - Apr. 10th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Some thoughts - apricot_tree - Apr. 11th, 2012 01:43 am (UTC) - Expand
midnightblooms
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
One of the major reasons I'm against Affirmative Action is I don't ever want to get a job because I'm a woman and the company needs to fill it's quota of female employees. Funny, I had never thought of it from the man's perspective, ie, getting a job because they are male.

It's insulting from all perspectives.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
My question would be whether affirmative action gives you an advantage because you're female, or if it balances out the advantage men receive automatically for being men...
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reedrover
Apr. 10th, 2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
I'm so enjoying your blog. I was really pleased that you were nominated for fan writer, because I enjoy your blog... though, often, I enjoy your blog because of posts like this. Your writing has a voice that is unique to you, and easy to hear as a personal idiom. However, I don't give you any extra credit because you are male. seanan_mcguire is also an awesome, interesting, dynamic blog full of thought-food, and it comes from Seanan, a self-identified female.

What I find more useful in your post is your discussion about reactions, and your honesty about yourself. I happen to think it's all about ME! is a perfectly valid first reaction. We all have them. I read your blog and think about what do I care about what you said first and foremost. Then maybe I'll think about what other people might care, or how it affects the people around me, etc. So posts like this actually lend more validity to your arguments, not less, by showing how society has trained warped us into defensive outbursts that we need to recognize and fight with intellect, not simply deny and ignore.

Also? I want some "Go Team Penis!" t-shirts for some friends of mine. They need to understand that there is no reason to be ashamed of being male. As you said in a previous post, it's not about being male, it's about being a jackass... or not. As you have recognized your accomplishments may have been supported from privilege and advantage, you can also use your powers for good - like your blogs asking that people work on discussing issues rather than using preemptive/dismissive rhetoric.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And yes, Seanan is triple-scoop awesome with biohazardous sprinkles.

While I'm generally pro-Tshirt, I'd be reluctant to actually do that one. I like the message, that there's nothing inherently shameful about being male, but I think without context those would come across as uncomfortable and potentially threatening, if that makes sense?
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Apr. 10th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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comrade_cat
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:10 pm (UTC)
It's always hard to admit embarrassing things. So thanks for sharing this.
lietya
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
This is yet another entry that makes me want to shout from the rooftops "YES, THIS." I'll also second everyone who says that the initial reaction isn't what counts, it's what happens a few seconds later when the rational brain kicks in. That's a point that often gets obscured in these discussions, to be replaced by accusations of thought policing on one side and existential despair at the impossibility of convincing the subconscious on the other.

(I say that so that in context it's clear that this is a nitpick - not all men have Y chromosomes or penises, and not everyone who has both or either of those is a man. I wouldn't nitpick like this at most people, actually, but you've demonstrated that you Get It so thoroughly that I figured you might want to know that's something that will hurt some people out there [not speaking for them, either, just observing based on past comments elsewhere that such people exist].)
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
I have no objections to the nitpick. It's one of the things I'm working on. In a piece like this, where some of those comments are meant as parody ... I don't know. Still thinking and working through. (Because of course, "It's meant to be a joke!" is neither defense nor justification for hurting someone.)
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cepetit.myopenid.com
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
May I respectfully suggest that too much of the reaction to discrimination (of any kind) is a socially imposed "it's my turn, now", and that that is the real problem?

Too many activists against discriminatory form X respond, when granted the power to do so, by adopting almost precisely the methods used in X and reversing the weapon. That's the difference between the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr and some of his... self-appointed continuing "disciples". King did not advocate for quota-based affirmative action or anything else that tended to grant increased opportunity to subclass y by taking away opportunities from subclass not-y. Admittedly, there are some practicalities and enforceability issues involved in creating a legal mechanism to deal with the past. It is more than vaguely intellectually dishonest, though, to substitute one form of discriminating based upon one's ancestry or genetics for another as a long-term solution to the problem of discrimination based upon one's ancestry or genetics.

Unfortunately, this sort of filling-of-the-abuse-of-power-vacuum response occurs within the speculative fiction community, too. To name one example — the one that came immediately to mind with Our Gracious Host's specific example — there's one purportedly social group that often shows up at conventions that is pretty hostile to even efforts to learn about the issues that group professes to concern itself with if one is from the wrong combination of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation: The combination most often identified with the "entrenched opposition" to that group.

Changing who gets excluded doesn't solve discrimination. Solving discrimination is a lot harder than that.
reedrover
Apr. 10th, 2012 03:26 pm (UTC)
Changing who gets excluded doesn't solve discrimination.

I agree, and I agree that there are often people excluded from the problem-solving groups if they appear to be members of the group currently gifted with the "oppressing" label. Why not look at all of the issues, including how society reinforces biases and stereotypes from both sides? Divided groups rarely can find compromise; it becomes a see-saw of who is up and who is down.

P.S. This is the other reason why I like this blog so much: the intelligent contributions in the comments.
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barbarienne
Apr. 10th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
Having privilege doesn't change the fact that you are awesome. It is entirely possible to be awesome independently of any advantages you have that permit you to display that awesomeness.

The disadvantage for women in fandom vis-a-vis this sort of award is that they aren't any less awesome, but their awesomeness is stifled and hidden.

Opening up the screens and letting their awesomeness shine wouldn't diminish your awesomeness (or that of any other fan writer, male or female). It's not a zero-sum game.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 05:32 pm (UTC)
"Awesomeness is not a zero-sum game" should also be a T-shirt. (Though once again, it would probably need some context...)
(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Apr. 10th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathschaffstump
Apr. 10th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
Boy.

I don't want to say this at the risk of cracking open a longer conversation about male and female attributes (which, yes, are ascribed by cultural mores and really are quite random. On second thoughts, knock yourself out...), but I sort of supported you for the Hugo fan writer based on some of what would societally be identified as your feminine characteristics.

So, with another unfortunate and perhaps risque phrase, your penis had almost nothing to do with your publicity campaign, at least from this angle.

I think I've done enough damage with words this entry.

Catherine
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 05:32 pm (UTC)
I am perfectly comfortable with that :-)
(no subject) - barbarienne - Apr. 10th, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
dancesontrains
Apr. 10th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
BTW, happening to have a penis or the Y chromosome =/= being a dude.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 06:32 pm (UTC)
Agreed. As I said upstream, it's one of the things I'm working on. In a piece like this, where some of those comments are meant as parody ... I don't know. Still thinking and working through. (Because of course, "It's meant to be a joke!" is neither defense nor justification for hurting someone.)
sylvanstargazer
Apr. 10th, 2012 06:36 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to figure out how to articulate that discrimination, and thus affirmative action, doesn't take away from the accomplishments of people who are promoted under that system (unless they they explicitly exploit disenfranchized people/steal their ideas/not link to or credit people who aren't promoted). If it did every single accomplishment in the post-colonized America by someone with a college education from the vast majority of colleges before those colleges became co-ed/racially integrated are meaningless (as late as, say, 1974 for MIT), and they're still diminished by the inequality in feeder schools.

The men who invented the LISP programming language were in a position to do so only because they were male. That doesn't mean they weren't amazing computer scientists, that their accomplishments shouldn't count, that we shouldn't use what they invented. We have no way of knowing whether they'd be where they were if it weren't for affirmative action, and it's fine to talk about that, but they were still good at what they do. They were the best computer scientists among the male, white, middle-class population, and I do think that is possibly an accomplishment to be proud of even while we fight for broader inclusions and recognize how messed up that system is.

I haven't quite got to the point where I can turn this into a cohesive point yet. I'm not even sure where I'm going with it. But I'm glad to see someone who is coming at it from the other side.
rosencrantz23
Apr. 10th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
I've taken to discussing issues of privilege and -isms with my fiancee (recently accepted to a PhD in Anthropology), trying to come to personal understandings about what the concepts entail and meaningful definitions for them.

One thing that we both have come to agree on is that privilege really exists at the group level -- the fact that *as a whole*, whites (or men) are more likely to have an easier time of things, and will be *privileged* to not have to wonder why saying or doing something might be hurtful to someone else.

As a white man, I too derive passive benefit from my privileged class-membership. As a struggling-to-make-ends-meet librarian, my individual actions may or may not reinforce or perpetuate that privilege.

For those who have sat through a statistics course (and perhaps still remember a bit from it), privilege (at least in my mind) works as a sampling function. The bigger the sample, the more evident internal trends become, and the more confidently we can say that any one member of that sample group will behave in pattern X, or derive benefit Y. But we can never speak with 100% accuracy based on that. There are too many layers of power (financial? social? economic? political?) and permutation of social backgrounds and experiences to say automatically "that must be privilege in action".

Having digressed in your blog's comments, may I now thank you for having enough intellectual awareness to have never treated privilege or -isms as simple, universally easy-to-analyze concepts, as I have seen done elsewhere in the blogosphere. It's just one more reason that I keep coming back to read what you've posted.
cathshaffer
Apr. 10th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
This is not in any way your fault, but it is a problem. I see a lot of excuses being made, too. Recently I came across a blog post, and have no idea who wrote it or where it appeared, where the author added up the male and female genre award recipients, and got 60% male, 40% female. The blogger then concluded that that meant there was "no problem," having apparently failed fourth grade math. When it comes to the genre writer community, there's a sort of aggressive denial that there is or can be any sexism ("look how many editors are women!!!"), and therefore any discrepancies in success or frequency of publication between male and female authors are mansplained away. However, honestly, as a woman, I feel there are headwinds.

Anyway, you should not let that take away from your enjoyment of being nominated. It is well-deserved.
jimhines
Apr. 10th, 2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
No worries there. I'm still happy and proud, and planning to enjoy this as much as possible in between all of the freaking out :-)
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Apr. 10th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
greenmtnboy18
Apr. 10th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
Appreciate the footnote, you are SUCH a good guy... but "Go Team Penis" is simply too fun. :-D I'm sharing it in my little world.
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