In The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I saw an unconscionable number of times in my adolescence) when Frank N. Furter unveils Rocky, his artificially created superhunk, Janet says, “I don’t like a man with too many muscles.” Frank snarls back, “I didn’t MAKE him for YOU!”
That little exchange always goes through my head when certain conversations come up. For example, if you follow any SF writers online, you are probably aware that there is a very big sexism controversy going on right now over the content of the SFWA bulletin. It goes like this: Step 1, put a cheesy bikini-chainmail babe on the cover. Step 2, write a condescending article about “lady” editors and writers in the field. Step 3, when people express objections to these two things, let Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg make epic fools of themselves trying to defend sexism by equating the act of expressing a contrary opinion to censorship.
(Cogent and detailed take on the whole thing by Foz Meadows here… Old Men Yelling at Clouds… and I really have to second the notion that if you EVER find yourself tempted to agree with Sean Hannity about anything, first, you should reconsider your opinion, and second, you should think about checking yourself into a sanitarium, because you are badly in need of rest.)
See, the chainmail bikinis and patronizing observations about lady editors are okay, because they didn’t MAKE it for YOU.
I haven’t seen the latest Star Trek movie, but apparently there is some gratuitous female almost-nudity, and the filmmakers want to prove that this wasn’t sexist, because they also filmed gratuitous male nudity… then didn’t use it in the final cut of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch shirtless!. If you click on the link and scroll down, you’ll see the first comment, saying, that’s Star Trek’s core fan base, so what do you expect?
I objected, thus:
But thinking about Star Trek’s core fan base exclusively as horny, heterosexual teenage boys is exactly the problem. Female Trek fans are just supposed to suck it up, I guess? Accept our designated fate as second-class Trek citizens? “Oh, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it — it’s not for you, anyway!”
The commenter’s response?
Yeah, but I’m a fan of sappy, so-called “chick flicks” and yet I don’t expect them to give equal time to big-guns-big-tits-bloodbaths.
Each genre is what it is. I feel blatant sexism like this (as well as sappy romance in chick flicks) are aspects worth embracing.
Right. I’m not “allowed” to want a less sexist big-budget SF movie because… they didn’t MAKE it for YOU.
(Anyway, we’ve got some nice romances for you over here, wouldn’t you rather watch those? Come on, we DID make them for you! What’s wrong, don’t you like them? You’re SUPPOSED to LIKE them! They’re all nice and gooey…)
I follow The Hawkeye Initiative, a fan project where comic depictions of female characters are “fixed” by putting Hawkeye in the same pose. I think it’s brilliant, because it exposes how peculiar and hyper-sexualized many of these poses are. Seeing a female character depicted that way has become so common that it’s almost background noise — it’s just “how you draw women.” Doing it to a male character makes us really see the pose again. And what we see is image after image after image that might as well be a Playboy photo spread.
We didn’t MAKE it for YOU.
There’s a word for art that is specifically engineered to cater to the libido, and that word isn’t “science fiction” or “comic books,” that word is “porn.” Not that I’m dissing porn. But I don’t think everything should be porn, and in particular, I don’t think everything should be porn aimed straight at horny, heterosexual teenage boys. Since I am not one of those, porn catering to them tells me, very clearly, we didn’t make this for you. We like to think of you as the tolerant girlfriend watching porn with your sweetie as a romantic gesture. The girlfriend dragged along to the latest Star Trek movie, and in exchange you get to drag him to a cheesy romcom. The girlfriend reading your boyfriend’s comic stash on a rainy afternoon. The lady editor who doesn’t mind a little (male-oriented) porn in her SF, in fact, she’s written some (male-oriented) porn herself!
But still. You don’t actually belong here, girls. It’s our clubhouse, and we tolerate your presence only so long as you don’t kick up a fuss. What’s wrong? You don’t like our porn? What are you, some kind of anti-sex extreme-o feminist noodlehead?
No, I’m just a lifelong feminist and science fiction fan who, not very long ago, hoped to finally sell enough stories to the right sort of markets to qualify for SFWA membership. Now I’m not sure I care anymore. Because, apparently, they didn’t make it for me.