Calling people on thoughtless sexist sh*t: Justin Landon on Patrick Rothfuss

So Patrick Rothfuss, on his Reddit Ask-Me-Anything, did this:

Let’s all talk about cup sizes. There’s nothing wrong with reducing a female person to her secondary sexual characteristics!

It passed unnoticed by many, unremarked-upon by most.

But Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review decided he would remark upon it:

By not objecting to the comment on Reddit, Rothfuss functionally condoned the behavior. By responding to it, and participating in the masturbatory exchange that followed, Rothfuss demonstrated a camaraderie with the concept that his female characters exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze. He is normalizing a culture in which men feel entitled to have access to “attractive” women, judge women’s worth on their “attractiveness”, and not consider women as anything other than objects for view/consumption. I think what bothers me most of all is that the science fiction and fantasy community has done nothing but rail against this kind of mentality for the past several years and yet one of its most successful [authors] is perfectly fine participating in it.

…If the Reddit question was the first example of Rothfuss doing something questionable as it relates to women, I would keep my mouth shut. But, for the past several years he has published a pin-up calendar for his Worldbuilders charity that depicts female characters from genre novels in alluring poses. He’s even got some high profile women authors to contribute their characters to the project. Why is the calendar problematic? Because the man is framed as the viewer, and the woman as the viewed. The calendar is celebrating science fiction and fantasy, and thus framing the woman as a passive recipient in the art excludes them from an active role in the making, creating, and consuming of the genres themselves. Of course, none of that is nearly as egregious at the comment that opened this post, but it points to a pattern of behavior. A pattern which none of the big dogs have deemed appropriate to call out.

I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss, or the shit that some Reddit-using Rothfuss fans are giving Landon for drawing attention to the fact that the SFF community’s big names don’t tend to call out their community-involved success stories for doing thoughtless shit/saying thoughtless crap in public. (It is a very human thing to not want to piss off your friends and colleagues. On the other hand, it can become a problem.)

No, I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss. I want to mention, instead, what it means to me to see a (cis) male person on the internet calling out an incident of thoughtless sexist speech, and doing so quite thoroughly.

Men get a lot of kudos for calling out sexism/misogyny. Part of the reason they do, I think, is because non-cis-male people have learned not to count on the support of men when it comes to how the (to use bell hooks’ phrase: white supremacist patriarchy) patriarchy screws them over. We expect them to dismiss us, to uphold a viewpoint that dismisses our lived experience as irrelevant, a hierarchy that devalues our participation.

When a guy comes out and proves by word and action that he’s listening – and using what he’s learned to go out and preach to the unconverted – and that he’s willing to take us seriously, that he’ll stand up and be counted in support, there’s an startling amount of relief associated with that. And that startlement – that lack of expectation – means he receives the kind of effusive thanks usually reserved for completely unexpected and really welcome costly gifts.

Because make no mistake, pushing back against damaging cultural norms is work that costs people who do it. In energy – emotional, physical, and intellectual – yes, but it can also cost them their sense of personal safety (see under: death threats, rape threats, bomb threats), sometimes their jobs, and sometimes their mental health.

The more support there is for this kind of work, the less, ultimately, it will cost us to do it. Men have the advantage that other men are more likely to listen to them and take them seriously than they are to people who aren’t cis men, which is part of those damaging cultural norms, but the more men there are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, the more men there will be who are willing to listen to the rest of us when one of us says, Actually, that’s a problem.

So to Justin: thank you. It is a lovely gift.

Now I’ll expect this kind of gift from you all the time.