Saturday, April 07, 2012

Cat discusses birds and bees and is set among the pigeons

Excellent piece of inadvertently funny commenting hit the SF blogs yesterday.  Funny, in an 'almost made me cry but I decided to laugh instead' way.  

The SF commentariat was rocked to its foundations last week when venerable Man of Letters Christopher Priest suddenly decided to lay into the jury for the little-known but believe-me prestigious Clarke awards.  His was a fine piece of what James Nicoll calls "cane shaking", a get-off-my-lawn piece of polemic which stopped just slightly short of calling for the jurors' heads to be brought to him on a silver platter. The SF world, bored with chewing its own foot and scratching its ears, sat up, made popcorn, and in many cases, played along with the stars. It was so fine a tempest in a teapot that even Fandom Wank found a place for it, and it doesn't do that often with written SF.  One of the prominent SF writers who commented on this was John Scalzi, writer of many popular books and keeper of an immensely popular blog called Whatever.

Anyway, SF author Catherynne Valente, writing as Yuki Onna on Live Journal  (my mind always balks at that name and supplies a 'no' for Yuki no Onna, but there isn't one), wrote a related piece saying that the backlash against Chris Priest for speaking his mind was nothing compared with the backlash that would have occurred if he had been a woman.  She says, "if a woman wrote it, she’d have been torn to pieces. No quarter, no mercy." Women online are routinely 'put in their place' if they criticize in public.  Violence, specifically rape, is often invoked. She gives examples.

I'm not going to debate that thesis here – It's true that the interwebs can be scarily nasty to women to the extent that some would call it qualitatively different to the internet's generalized scary nastiness to men, but I'm not as impassioned about that the way Cat Valente is. You can read her words and decide for yourself.

Cat Valente's piece attracted a lot of comments.  One of them was a long screed from a man called avt_tor, trying to be as reasonable as possible (you can see the sweat created by his trying to behave himself glisten on every sentence) who disagrees with Cat Valente about the denigration and belittlement of women in online discourse and concludes his spiel:   
 If you're just venting to your friends on LJ, I apologize. Scalzi elevated your post to the level of social commentary when he linked to it.
You have to love the innocent gall. He magnanimously gives Valente the opportunity to retreat, as she's probably just 'venting' to her friends – you know, like women do – on Live Journal – you know, like women do – but when Big John links to her post,  testosterone was invoked and a possibility loomed that her piece could be taken as social commentary. Now it's a man's issue and a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do – even if that means posting a comment on icky feminine Live Journal. 

I've never read a comment that proved the original writer's point while disputing it in quite such a neat and tidy fashion.  I just laughed out loud.

Both Valente and Scalzi point this out in answers to the comment.  

John Scalzi: 
I didn't *do* anything to this post other than point to it. Everything it already was, it was before then. I'll also note that *I* found it because someone else had already pointed to it (a woman, as it happens. […] Which, as it happens, dovetails *rather cogently* with her points made above, regarding the differences in how the sexes and their contributions to discourse are apprehended and processed.

Valente added, at around the same time as Scalzi's first comment: 
I'm sorry, John did not "elevate my post to the level of social commentary." It was social commentary. 

(Another bitter chuckle was evoked.)

After a comeback from the commenter Scalzi added:   
Perhaps you did not mean to suggest that I, as a man, have validated the thoughts of Cat, as a woman. Perhaps you meant that the SCALZI ENTITY validated the VALENTE ENTITY, independent of those entities' respective genders. But as a practical matter, context matters, and in a discussion focused on the privilege of gender (and lack thereof), it might have been wise to pay attention to detail.

(Appreciative laughter from me.)

Live Journal comments are threaded, which means that replies to comments, although properly nested,  muddy up the order in which comments were received, and  the stark exchange now lacks the bite it did when the comments I quoted stood out. There are 329 comments at the post as I write, and it's a bit of a thicket.  I was lucky to see that exchange go by in real time. 

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