I don’t normally make a habit of blogging in the middle of the night, but sometimes an idea grabs you in its teeth and won’t let go until you’ve done something about it. In this case, it’s my relationship to the women of the passion narratives of the gospels.
I can’t, and won’t, make the intellectually fallacious arguments that the bible is in any way feminist or progressive. It isn’t, and I find most feminist theology tedious and hard to digest. That doesn’t mean, however, that the stories we do get of women in the bible – particularly the new testament – don’t grab me in a really visceral way. They do – possibly precisely because there is nothing intrinsically feminist about their stories, but rather they mirror my continued struggles with sexism today. In each of the passion stories (save one), despite large theological differences, there is one common thread: the women were the first to know, and the men did not trust them.
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In Mark’s version (the earliest attested gospel), three women go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Salome. When they find the tomb empty and hear the astonishing words of the angel, they flee. They’re the first to hear of the resurrected Christ, and yet say nothing to anyone. These are the last words of Mark’s gospel. Obviously, at some point, someone must have cracked, or otherwise Mark’s gospel wouldn’t have been written. All the same, I understand exactly why it was written this way. How often do women, armed with a powerful truth, keep silent because of fear? I know I’ve done it. I’ve probably done it this week. Fear of being laughed at, fear of being ignored, fear of being disbelieved, fear of silencing, often in very permanent ways.
Mark has always been my favourite gospel to read, probably because it’s very human. The women at the end have shouldered a heavy burden of grief – they know it, and they’re getting on with their lives, even if it means handling the body of a dear friend, because someone has to do it. They’re not hiding in a locked room somewhere, like Jesus’ male disciples.
You go on, because you must. I can’t stop myself from seeing misogyny anymore than I can stop myself from blinking. It’s a bad bargain, because when fear stops up your throat and locks your tongue, the truth festers inside until you can’t help but scream it or perish. If you manage to say out loud, “That’s a sexist thing to say,” or “That attitude is hurtful to women,” or even just a flabbergasted, “You fucker, why would you do something like that?” you’re met with resistance. Anger. Fear. Silencing. Worse, you’re met with nothing. No acknowledgment whatsoever that you’ve done anything other than bow your head and go on. Because you must.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
“We know it’s true because a man did it.” Sometimes, as a feminist, you’re so grateful that someone put it into words other men will listen to, you’re willing to forgo the frustration that countless women have attested to it already. Stay silent, because you’re afraid. Speak up, and they don’t believe you. In the game of he said, she said, he prevails.
Though Matthew and Luke stem from the same sources (Mark and an unwritten, theorized Q gospel), their passion narratives differ. Matthew’s gospel has a punchier, action-movie feel to it. An angel appears to the women, telling them to tell the others that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Why, we don’t know, because Jesus himself immediately appears to them, and says the exact same thing. (A big budget picture, this one.)
The eleven do go to Galilee, where Jesus meets them, as he said, but the consistent flow is lacking. For one, there’s an anti-semetic little interlude where the high priests and elders bribe the soldiery to tell everyone the disciples stole Jesus body “(a)nd this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” Which is darkly funny when you consider that all the passion narratives save this one are about how you can’t believe everything you hear. So while Matthew’s gospel makes no mention one way or another of whether the disciples when to Galilee because they believed the women’s story, or they went because they had nothing to lose, it’s easy to see why the author wanted to avoid conflating the silly, non-Christian Jews who believe any old lie they’re told with the followers of Jesus who believe in the resurrection. From a narrative standpoint, the omission makes sense. From a comparative reading standpoint, it stands out like a sore thumb. It’s entirely possible the disciples just ended up in Galilee independently of anything the women might have said – we don’t know.
I can’t put my finger on why this version unsettles me. Erasure, perhaps. Every other passion narrative takes such pains to mention, however briefly, the women’s actions and reactions to the empty tomb, that this one rings extra hollow. It’s possible I just really hate Matthew’s gospel. (I do.) Maybe the author’s favourite drum to bang was the rather infamous anti-semitism (this is also the gospel that has the Jewish people claim the blood of Jesus on their heads), it super-ceded the cultural norm of ignoring and erasing women. Not a terribly comforting thought.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.
Peter is a dope, it is known. But similar to the story in Luke, he has to see what Mary said to believe it. And all he really knows is the body is gone. Later:
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
(Author of John, don’t think I don’t see you reusing Matthew’s wording about the Jews.) Basically, it’s like the author couldn’t decide which to use: Luke’s story where the women are not believed until the men see it for themselves, or Matthew’s where the women ostensibly tell the disciples something, but Jesus takes it into his own hands and appears to them just to make super sure they know it’s true.
Here’s the craziest thing about all these, and why these stories are keeping me up tonight: this is about someone LITERALLY COMING BACK FROM THE DEAD. The women did not speak because they were afraid, or they were not believed because their story was so flipping crazy-sounding. That’s shitty, in and of itself, but not unusual. But Jesus appears to the men, and they believe and speak in tongues and hug snakes and all sorts of cool things I am given to understand happens after the resurrection.
For us – for me, anyway – we can speak openly about sexism. We can give examples, name facts and statistics, tell our stories. Violence against women can literally happen in front of people – some of the things i have experienced were not without witnesses. It’s not a once in a lifetime occurrence. It happens all the time, in public and in private. Everyone can and should be able to see it, at least once in a while.
Somehow, the thought that there still remains violence against women, slurs and sexual harrassment, and disbelief in competence, and wage gaps, and the feminization of poverty, and continued internalization of misogyny BY women is more incredible than someone coming back from the dead is mindblowing. People, good people as well as terrible ones, think this. It keeps me awake at night.
They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid. God help me, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to speak up, and I’m afraid to remain silent.
A Note: A short while after I posted my first Sorry Not Sorry, someone mentioned that they hated that phrase because of how dismissive it sounds, a cousin to “I’m not homophobic *pulls out bullhorn and screams* BUT…” I chose this name partly out of practicality (it’s topical, it’s catchy), but also because for me, it sums up the contradictions in being a queer woman and participating in media culture. Pretty much everything I consume, whether it’s literature, television or video games, is going to have its problems, some far more than others. However, I like participatory criticism, and given the popularity of some of these works, the criticism has a broader chance to get out there and be heard. Maybe that’s still naivete. But it’s my naivete, at least.
Safe to say, this post will contain spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones, and while I’m talking about the show over the book, consider the post as having spoilers for books 1-5 as well.
There have been a lot of reasons to be angry this week. Truly, legitimately angry. Most prominent would be the Stuebenville verdict and the backlash Jane Doe has faced. (And her compassionate response to everything continues to be an incredible inspiration to me.)
Or how about Adria Richards, who tweeted a request for PyCon employees to deal with some con-goers making sexual jokes. She did it via twitter in order to not disrupt the on-going presentation, and tweeted a picture IDing the perpetrators. As you can see, it was handled! Excellent. However…not only is PyCon in the midst of changing their code of conduct after the fact to avoid similar firestorms, but Adria also lost her job (as did one of the men making the jokes) over the incident after internet heroes started ddosing her company’s website, not to mention the ubiquitous threats and slurs.
Or the release of Anita Sarkeesian’s first video in her Tropes versus Women project, which is wholly (almost to the point of blandness) the bare bones of feminism 101, and still received and continues to receive a shitstorm of threats, not to mention just plain absurd accusations of being a Fake Gamer Girl.
Right, so here’s the thing.
I do not, as a matter of course, wake up angry. When I got married, more than one person signed off their cards with, “never go to bed angry” and I try to hold to that. (I guess they meant towards my husband and not existentially, but eh, what’re you gonna do?) I do not even engage in people saying things I disagree with angry.
But I sure do get angry fast when my (to my mind) relatively mild disagreement becomes phrased as “too angry” or “an attack” or, my personal favourites “irrational and/or hysterical”. Nothing in my entire experience prepared me for how easily people will call you angry – and then suddenly, other people see it too! Whatever the topic of conversation was, it falls to the wayside in the wake of a discussion on whether or not I was angry, am I justifiably angry, how much literal venom am I pouring into innocent bystanders ears. “You’re right,” I murmur, “I was angry all along. I retract my position because this anger is unbecoming and causes frown lines.”
Okay, maybe not the last part. But I do, at that point, start get angry. Anger has perhaps even become a default starting point, if only so I can skip the song and dance about exactly how angry I am. It’s like cutting out the embarrassing stumbling around after someone asks you if you’re pregnant. (“No, just fat. welp, you must be embarrassed.”)
So, yeah, I’m angry. I’m angry that in the year of our lord twenty thirteen we are still having discussions about whether or not a woman has a right to bodily autonomy; yes, even if she signed a contract. I’m angry that I see women going before me into the tech and game industries and be pushed aside, pushed out or drop out from the sheer exhaustion of dealing with idiot men. I’m angry that most people can’t point out what rape is on a map. Sometimes I take that anger and channel it into a project I’m working on. And sometimes I use it to fuel a discussion about any of those topics long past the point where I just want to throw up my hands, understand that equality isn’t ever going to really happen except on the most superficial levels, and sleep the day away in a pillow fort filled with cats.
I’m tired of fighting in my own circles. I have just as many, if not MORE, arguments with people who want to be allies and other feminists, than I do with Straight Up Card Carrying Misogynists. Sometimes these arguments can be good, a way to clarify and expand on my own thoughts on feminism and women’s rights. Often, they’re infuriating, borne out of a societal drive to promote a Meritocratic Individual who Has Opinions (And opinions, naturally, can never be wrong.) I don’t like being angry at people who are ostensibly “on my side” but I don’t want the half-assed deals they’re offering, either!
When women were imprisoned during the American federal suffragette movement, due to bullshit charges (Obstructing Traffic, for example), when they were issued pardons, some refused to take them, because they hadn’t committed a crime to begin with. Taking the pardons meant admitting guilt in the original instance. There are hundreds of posts’ worth of problems with first-wave feminism, but I admire that particular spirit. I don’t want fun, sexy feminism. I don’t want to assuage men that I shave my legs, and abhor misandry to get them on board. I want them on board because it’s the right thing to do.
Yeah, I’m angry. What are you going to do about it?
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up World of Shell and Bone, to be honest. The blurb makes it sounds like most post-apoc/dystopian YA: devastating war, weird obsession with young women procreating, overthrowing fascist government. I don’t think I could have anticipated what I actually got, though.
The writing is passable, if flowery. It’s obvious there’s been some editing there. It feels weird to even mention this, because editing/decent writing is like that one feminist ally dude who feels like you should salivate over his progressiveness because he thinks rape is wrong, you know? But in the world of self-pubbing, this causes the book to stand out. Same with the cover – it’s flashy and nicely done, and I appreciate that. (David Dalglish sucked me in the same way.)
Vika Cannon lives in a world where sixty five years ago, a nuclear war devastates the world (barring most of Asia, for reasons unexplained except Because China), so that the depleted populations of North and South America band together and form one country known as New Amana, run by a feminist regime, because Men Like War, and War is Bad.
There’s a number of problems here with the time line and world building. For example:
Religion is not allowed any longer, although my mother can remember a time when she actually went to church as a young child before the practice was abolished…Churches and temples still stand, but they’re used for educational purposes now, to show how religion clouded people’s thinking before the War.
Vika’s mother is still alive in the course of the story, making her ~75 years old (and 55 years old when she gave birth to Vika). At no time is religion really ever mentioned again – no older people viciously clinging to their beliefs, no cultural memory of worshipping, or gods, or anything. Just completely wiped out, except as a historical relic, in a mere 65 years.
Even more glaring is her description of race and ethnicity:
People in New Amana have interbred so the distinct ethnic groups of my grandmothers time are no longer in existence among the young, mainstream population. Now, almost everyone is some shade of medium brown with hazel or brown eyes, and hair that ranges from chestnut to soot.
Assuming the idea that In the Future Humans Will be One Race is even possible, having it happen within 65 years – ONE generation – is so outside any plausibility it just reads like some utopian wishful thinking. For what reason is unclear, given what a crapsack shithole New Amana is and how often the author reminds us of it. Under a feminist regime, women are still basically walking wombs, but at least there’s no race issues anymore? Jeez, who knows.
The whole underpinning of Vika’s story is the problems she faces under the New Amana government comes completely undone the more you learn about the world she lives in. There’s a huge focus and pressure on women to procreate, despite the nuclear war creating a continent-wide nuclear desert and scarcity of food and resources. Women who currently haven’t had children are forced to wear red armbands with big zeros on them, for… some reason? It’s never really made clear why, even when Vika gets pregnant and gets a new armband (with a golden tree heavy with fruit!). Given how much of your life rides on being able to give birth and emigrate to Glorious China for a life of hard labour/soldiering, armbands seem like an awfully flimsy protection.
Or how about the fact that the government, which the book solemnly makes clear to us Is Bad And Wrong, desperately wants women giving birth, but they are only allowed six months to try and conceive (reduced in the book to three months, due to emigration bottlenecking), before they are arrested and gassed to death. Why a world scarce in resources wants more children is beyond me, but it’s the motivating factor for most of the book for Vika and her peers, but why they gas the women (and not the Husbands) under a feminist regime is beyond me.
Oh, sorry, did I say women? I meant “females”:
A Husband must have utmost faith in his female at all times.
“The Rads have some terrorist females,” Moon replies.
That is some Save the Pearls shit right there. Men are subjugated, lesser, more or less indistinct from one another – but at least they have NAMES. They have titles!
The Radicals? Legitimate, lifted from the pages, redditors:
Rads are dissastified with the feminist angle of the government, and oppose nearly everything it does… they wear black to symbolize their oppression.
The Rads have always been vocal about “their” daughters being taken away, even though they know full well going into the Match process that the children belong solely to the female.
In order to force the men to break up their protest, they are sprayed with acid by the maintenance crews – lavender acid! Misandry is real here, you guys. Oh, by the way, though Guards and Escorts are women, for some reason, Maintenance crews are the enforcer types, and they’re all men. Confused yet? I sure am.
The Radicals main objective is to destroy the Asylums where the Defecteux – the Defective – are taken “for the good of the people”. Ostensibly, the excuse is that unfit children should be studied so that people can stop producing kids with developmental disabilities or in the case of Vika’s sister, epilepsy. Of course, there’s no scientific advancement involved, they’re just giant rape factories! Which… again, why do they exist then? If something serves no utilitarian purpose in a place so strangled for resources, why do they have it, especially when they are gassing perfectly healthy women? The stakes are way too high for women alone in this feminist regime, and it makes absolutely no sense to me.
Vika and her Husband, Shale, witness a neighbour’s son be taken to an Asylum for being sickly, and he begs her to help but Vika refuses, nervous at the retaliation SHE might suffer. Later that night:
I part my legs. There’s a pause. Shale adjusts himself, puts his knees on either side of me. I wait for the starting words, my eyes trying to search his out, but it is too dark in the bedroom. Finally, he pushes off me. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, “I can’t tonight.” And he disappears into the bathroom again.
Look. I do not want to see the main character force him. Rape is awful, and it’s impossible to cheer for a protagonist pro-rape and coercion. BUT Vika is the one who dies if they fail! It’s her life on the line! I would hate it, but at least with the world-building, it would be consistent for her to make him stay. In fact, if house husbands are so important to women in this world, why they aren’t consistently doped with viagra and/or calming meds (as we’re regularly reminded by the narrative, men might be lesser, but they are Biologically Stronger than women still, and we need to be careful not to anger them.) The fact that Vika just lets him go was the point where a strangled “waak??” came out of my throat.
Via Shale’s connection to the Radicals, he convinces Vika to help him (when she does, he shows her his appreciation by buying her a bunch of cooking utensils on the black market! Because she likes to cook! But she can’t, because it’s unfeminist!) She comes with him to a meeting, because she wants to be a part of a plan to break into the Asylums and free the children there (including her sister):
The door opens wider and the man steps out. He’s dressed in the Rads’ black uniform, a black bandana around his mop of curly hair. He thrusts his chin at me. “Who’s the cunt?”
When we enter, I stand still a moment, allowing my eyes to adjust to what is all around me. The most taboo of le marche noir material is slathered on the walls. Twentieth century style posters of women in compromising positions and skimpy outfits are everywhere.
Wow, I can’t imagine why charmers like these are hunted by the feminist government! It’s because they’re scum. Why on earth I am meant to swallow the idea that a uniform race exists and religious memory mostly obliterated within 65 years but “bitch”, “cunt” and porno mags still exist is beyond me because it’s impossible.
The second half the book is mainly a blurry mess. Vika and Shale leave Ursa to go to Toronto to rescue her sister, they’re betrayed, she leaves Shale behind and finds a refugee camp full of Nukeheads and asylum escapees including her sister, who is thirteen and raped into catatonia basically. Vika is captured by a Rad and she is raped. The book ends with Vika and her sister on a boat, and Shale magically alive. The only passage of any note once leaving her city is the magical makeup scene, part of an idea to help her sister by throwing a birthday party for her and the other Asylum escapees:
Soon I am braiding a whole group of girls’ hair. After that, I decide to work on their clothes. Yellow coveralls aren’t very becoming, we decide, so I loop some twine around their belt loops on either side of their waists and string it in tight to cinch in the waist. Some of the girls make flower cuffs out of wildflowers and grass. Others grind red and pink flowers into a paste and use it to stain their cheeks and lips. I watch in wonder as they are transformed from lost little girls into graceful young women.
And of course, then the girls have no problems dancing with men at the birthday party! Hurray, they’re healed from their aversion to men! Take that, feminism!
If this book was written by a dude, I would just be all over tearing him up one side and down the other. Internalized misogyny is one hell of a drug, though, and it’s a bit more complicated than Victoria Foyt’s white supremacist fantasy world. The “feminist” government is clearly not written with any kind of feminist theory in mind, which, okay, ideologies can be perverted, maybe even within the short time frame set up in the book.
The hell of the whole mess is that this idea could have maybe worked with a little more research, a little more honesty and a little less desire to cash in on this whole concept of reverse oppression. Don’t make the male radical dude the hero! Don’t make the main character a loathsome, braindead obey-o-bot. Start with a main character who already knows the problems New Amana has caused in perverting the feminist ideology, who has access to stories about what feminism actually is about – people live to old age in the society, are you telling me she couldn’t track down ONE secret feminist?
All the problems listed above would be cast in a completely different light if Vika had been questioning them from page one. She doesn’t start asking why until her radical husband teaches her too – and they have magic, excellent sex. Somehow.
The fact that this same issue is plaguing stories about feminist leadership since Pamela Sargeant who was writing in the throes of second-wave feminism, where some backlash was a little understandable, is depressing as hell.
If you’re breathless to read a story where women are in charge and men are scarce and unimportant, at least in A Brother’s Price, women are given equal screen time and the Wild West setting is mildly interesting. Not so much here. Perhaps between now and whenever the sequel is released, Adriana Ryan will do some much needed reading of feminist thought.
Dear god, I hope so.
Sorry Not Sorry is a new series of blogs, dedicated to media I enjoy: video games, movies, books, etc. I intend for Sorry Not Sorry to open up a dialogue about the line between being a feminist and doing feminist things. The former doesn’t make everything you do automatically feminist (apologies to Lisa Simpson). The urge to close the gap between the two things is natural, I think, and ties in closely with feminists who feel the momentum of the movement flagging, attempting to flog life into it by expanding the definition of feminism so widely that it’s catching stray insects and the occasional neoliberal in its mouth these days. It has undermined the concept of subversion to the point of ridicule, where certain online circles take things like leg shaving or nail painting or high heels as a subversion of femme expectations, because they’re feminist and they’re not doing it because they have to! The average man on the street isn’t going to know that though, nor even are people you might hail as fellow feminists. It doesn’t mean you can’t do those things. It’s okay to be a feminist and enjoy watching Game of Thrones. You can be a feminist and read the Dresden files. It’s just that it doesn’t make those things feminist. Dig me?
So I open Sorry Not Sorry with Homestuck.
If you’re here, you’ve noticed I’ve moved this blog over to WordPress. This is part of my push to get myself writing more, blogging more, and generally being more present, whether online or off. Welcome if you’re new, welcome back if you’re a reader from before.
Please excuse the mess of some of the posts I ported over from Blogger – the formatting copied in bizarre ways and I’m in the process of tidying them up.
I’ve kept busy, even if I haven’t been writing, doing really important things. World-changing. Life-shattering.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t been doing anything super important. But I’m trying! This week, for example, marks the first time in therapy since my early college years. I have no doubt she will have plenty of suggestions to keep me busy not being a caterpillar wrapped in a fear-cocoon.
Here is a list of other items on my table for the near future:
Once again, welcome and welcome back. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.