Feminism Isn’t a Hobby

Today, people will be wearing black in some kind of attempt to soothe their consciences about the appalling treatment of women in South Africa on a daily basis, made manifest in the tragic rape and death of Anene Booysens. Like with the rhinos and the POI Bill, today people will express their sort-of pissiness with the system by adopting faddy shit that will be forgotten in a month. 

I suppose one could admire it, but really, its slacktivism on a Kony 2012 level. People will wear black once, sign a petition and then go on their merry ways, cracking jokes about how dumb women are (notice there’s never any men in blonde jokes) and listening to Chris Brown, that hooting dickhole. Everyone is quick to make fun of feminism, saying how unnecessary it is, how angry it is, don’t we know that things are awesome for women now? We can, liek, even vote and shit. Yay.

Where have all these well-intentioned but clueless people been? Why is it that you get upset for a week, whereas some of us are upset all the time because each and every day is a mass-perpetuated war on women around the world? How can you not see this as anything except slow genocide? Girl children are exterminated before birth in India qua being a girl. There are groups in America insisting that women who have abortions should be imprisoned. Women who bring claims of abuse at the hands of famous men are ridiculed and shamed. Add to this the mass rapes in refugee camps in Africa, the continued assault on women in South Africa, the extent of which isn’t even fully understood.

And yet people have the audacity to wear black and think this helps anything. There have been organisations working tirelessly for decades, trying to make what difference they can in a violent world that has no respect for women. Jesus, there are infants being raped. How can people trivialise this by wearing a different colour? 

There are ways people can help. People can learn to grow a goddamn spine and not laugh at rape jokes or complain when fuckwit DJs play music by misogynist assholes (or act like misogynist assholes themselves). You can volunteer your money, time and help at any number of women’s shelters, or teaching at a school lacking resources. You can help one woman out of poverty, whether it is through putting a girl child through school or helping her find work through your own connections.If you’re ever fortunate enough to be hiring, try make an effort to give more women a chance, and equal pay. When we see a woman being verbally abused, we can step in. If we think a woman is being abused at home, have the courage and basic decency to offer help. 

Wearing black and signing an Avaaz petition is as insulting as it is pathetic. Making a difference takes the work of everyone, every day. Think about all the times men around you have been crude and disgusting, and every time a woman stands up against it, she is humiliated. Not the poisonous shits who were telling the rape joke in the first place. Feminism is not a hobby – it is the combined efforts of everyone across all class, sexual orientations, gender and race lines to eradicate the hatred for women that is endemic to nearly every society on this planet. Don’t let people get a free pass because they listened to Facebook and wore black. It doesn’t mean anything if you’re only a feminist for a day. 

Organisations that need our help: 

POWA – People Opposing Women Abuse

Rape Crisis Cape Town

Directory of South African Welfare Organisations

Bombani Shelter for Abused Women (Alexandria) 

List of Shelters that the Soul Food Project Supports

Usindiso Ministries Women’s Shelter

AmCare List of Women and Children’s Shelters

The Frieda Hartley Shelter for Women in Distress (Johannesburg)

Tony Blair, A Journey and the Armchair Activists

Despite the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey is basically a handguide to how abusive relationships start, and that Game of Thrones is an airbrushed Medieval Europe where feminism and civil rights are things that happen to other books, I would never call for these books to be banned or burnt. You’d think this would be evident, but it really, really isn’t.

Part of my job is monitoring social media, and on the basis that Tony Blair is speaking at the Discovery Leadership Summit, an impassioned bandwagon-hopper has told us that we have blood on our hands for selling his books, for he is a war criminal. We should do a Tutu and remove ourselves from the equation. Here ends the rant. (Except it was much longer than this, and I don’t think anyone needs that in their lives right now. EDIT: It’s now a loooong Facebook thread all by itself. A guy screaming into the void all alone.)

Now, I agree that Blair is – to use a Valley Girl phrase – a complete tool. He agreed to follow America into a rather stupid and pointless war (although what war isn’t?) and while thousands of Iraqis have died, no one has really taken responsibility. I agree that is entirely unacceptable and there should be some kind of consequence.

But taking his books off the shelf really isn’t the answer.

The guy who wrote in to complain obviously doesn’t know much about publishing or moneymaking, or even common sense, it would seem. Let’s start with the first problem: if we ban one book, and are seen taking a stance on one political view, we will be swamped with demands to ban other books that upset people. We might be told to toss out Dawkins, or anything about the Pope, or a book about Julius Malema or Steve Hofmeyr. The minute we concede any ground in this matter, my time on social media will become exponentially painful as I field complaints about how we stock atheist books, or religious texts or some treatise written by a crazy person that people still study in philosophy.

Secondly, it is not the place of a book store to be the moral guardian of the nation. We have enough self-righteous Brittas around for that. Any place that makes money cannot be expected to toss valuable income down the drain to take a stance that is as transient as it is unnecessary. This is the second half of a very long recession. Bookstores have been particularly hard hit. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll skim off that to say that no sane bookstore is going to listen to three customers complain and toss income potential down the drain. Life must go on, and we do not need to close more stores or retrench more staff. Besides, in three weeks this will have been a non-event and no one will remember that we took a couple hundred books off the shelf (if that many). In any case, if we ban it, Amazon will still sell it. This is a company that sold dolphin meat in its Japanese store; I doubt Blair will bother them much.

Thirdly: Blair is not making as much money off these books as people might think. Once his advance is paid, the publisher (Cornerstone) has to fight to get that money back through sales. The sales aren’t setting the world on fire, which is a pity, since the proceeds are going to the Royal British Legion. I feel sorry for the publishing house, who were probably hoping to make big cash off this so that they could take a risk on a worthy debut author. Remember, publishing houses take a huge risk on any book, and the more money they have to take those risks, the better. Besides, if no one wanted to publish Blair, he could have done it himself. The age of gatekeepers is over.

Fourth: let him embarrass himself in the written word. There’s really not much harm in watching him desperately try to exonerate himself and no one buying it. And nothing destroys a writer’s ego like seeing their book piled high in the back of the warehouse, returned by stores who had customers too smart or uninterested to buy it. The kind of book that gets donated to charities or gets pulped.

Let the bookstore speak, and let the customers make their own decisions. It is not the place of the angry armchair activists to dictate to the buying habits of others, or the selling policies of stores. At the end of the day, banning books is archaic and never seems to work anyway. Remember when Monty Python was banned? And Catcher in the Rye?

It is a lot more gratifying to watch Blair be hoisted by his own petard than to lose out on some much-needed sales.

The Many Problems with Kony 2012

I distrust social media for a number of reasons, and while it can be used for good, it is also a terribly manipulative platform.

My social media feeds have been clogged with retweets and shares of the Kony:2012 video. The good people of this planet are outraged and considering the extremely slick production and delivery of the video, its not a surprise. What bothers me, however, is how good people are being manipulated into sharing what is ultimately crude, simplistic American war propaganda.

It is a bit suspicious that this video has surfaced only months after oil has been discovered in Uganda. It is also a bit worrying that Americans are calling on the American government to work with the relatively awful Ugandan government to drive out the LRA. If the Ugandan government were any good, this shouldn’t still be a problem twenty years later. The fact-checking on this video has already been done (references below), but here’s a quick summation of the problems with this video.

1: The LRA is hardly an army anymore

Once upon a terrible time, the LRA was tens of thousands strong, an army begun by a crazy woman and continued by an equally crazy man. Religion and greed mixed (and not for the first time) to precipitate the looting and systamtic plunder and torture of northern Uganda and elsewhere. Now, the LRA is less than 500 members strong and currently in peace talks. There are people who have been working on eliminating the LRA for many years. This video poses the very real danger of undoing that.

2: The video comes from Liberty University

You know those crazy homophobic, evangelist christians? The ones that back Republican election campaigns? Many of them come from Liberty University, home of the Invisible Children project. For more about why this is problematic, read more here. (Anyone remember that Uganda is trying to make it possible to execute people for being gay?)

3. It completely misses the point

Child soldiers are an old issue, something anyone with a mild interest in international affairs would have come across decades ago. There have been groups working to rehabilitate child soldiers for years: their work has gone on unthanked and unnoticed for so long. Maybe they just need a better social media manager.

4. It calls for US intervention

It is really, really not a good idea for America to get involved anywhere. Or China, for that matter. You only need to look at their interest in Sudan’s oil and not its problems to see that.

I know it seems like a terribly humbug thing to do, to tell people to stop sharing this video. But it is a prime example of how good, kind people are being used to further the selfish goals of others. I refuse to be a part of it, and I don’t care if it makes me seem hard and cynical. I will not support American warmongering at the expense of the very real efforts being done by Africans to resolve the situation.


Kony 2012 Viral Video Raises Questions About Filmmakers – CNN

Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012′ Video – Global Spin

Kony 2012: How Not To Change The World – CNN

Lord Help Us, Because This Campaign Won’t Help Anyone – Daily Maverick

Kony 2012 Leader Suggests its about Jesus and Evangelising

Accounting for Post-War Crimes in Northern Uganda – Friends for Peace in Africa

Invisible Children Confirms Pro-Interventionist Stance – The Gauntlet.com

How Invisible Children False Marketed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act – Blackstarnews.com

Visible Children – ChrisBlatmann.com 

Visible Children: We Got Trouble – VisibleChildren.tumblr

The Problem With Invisible Children Kony 2012 – Huffington Post

Worst Idea Ever? – Wronging Rights

Russia’s election, Kony2012 and online voyeur justice – Aljazeera.com

Anti-Gay Funding Behind Kony:2012 – TruthWinsOut.org

Kony 2012 video screening met with anger in Northern Uganda – The Guardian

Lauren Myracle, Shine, and the National Book Awards

I blogged about the National Book Awards for work (you have to admit, my job is awesome) over here, and since then it turns out there’s been a slightly ugly mix-up about the Young People’s writing category. To sum it up, Lauren Myracle‘s book Shine was mistakenly made a finalist instead of the novel Chime by Franny Billingsley. The problem is that she was asked to step out of the awards so as to ‘maintain the integrity of the awards process”.

Why? Because the judges can’t read one more book? It seems more than just a little ridiculous to me.

Lauren Myracle wrote this beautiful piece about what it felt like to be nominated, and then asked to leave. I admire her bravery, honesty and grace in this matter, because I know I would have been cursing like a wounded pirate.

Ah, life. Messy, wonderful life. This craziness has been good for me in that it’s pushed me to do some self-examination, and though I try to be honest with myself in general, certain situations press down harder than others.

What I’ve realized:

– it’s just one more reminder not to be so invested in validation from external sources;
– some people are idiots;
– far more are generous and kind;
– all the shame I felt? That shame gets a one-way ticket to…God, I don’t know. Oblivion, I suppose, because I didn’t do anything shameful, people make mistakes, and I am truly lucky to be part of a great, funny, fierce, and compassionate community of writers, readers, publishers, and friends.

When things first started falling apart, my fear was that people were going to point at me and laugh.

A couple of people have, but mainly I feel embraced, supported, and hugged, and hugs (even virtual ones) are really, really awesome.

There are always miniature ego-storms around book awards, an ostensibly ridiculous idea since books are subjective and shouldn’t need the benevolent support of several judges to be seen as good. As I wrote here about the Man Booker Prize, it really is just another popularity contest. Like the great song by Bowling for Soup says, ‘high school never ends’ and authors shouldn’t have to jump through hoops past writing and marketing the damned book in the first place.

Anyway, I speak twaddle; getting the Man Booker or the Pulitzer would probably validate my entire life. So, a delicious helping of irony for me, and my sympathies and support to Lauren Myracle. Support her by buying a copy of her book here and feel free to give it to a teen in need.

The Bloomsbury Whitewash and other book cover issues

In a parallel argument to the ‘No Gays Please’ attitude to most YA texts, this week the Guardian discussed the whitewashing of book covers in order to prevent the cover harming the book sales.

But Larbalestier believes the issues of “whitewashing” of covers, ghettoising of books by people of colour, and low expectations for these books are industry-wide. In 2004, Ursula Le Guin asked why “even when [my characters] aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover … I have fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost. But please consider that ‘what sells’ or ‘doesn’t sell’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If black kids, Hispanics, Indians both Eastern and Western, don’t buy fantasy – which they mostly don’t – could it be because they never see themselves on the cover?”

– The Guardian.co.uk

Book covers can easily make or break a book’s sales. In South Africa, for example, putting Christmas themes of snowy trees, mistletoe and Santa will instantly kill that book’s chances here. Likewise, photo-realistic covers like these tend to do very well:

But covers like these usually flounder:

The reason people judge books by their covers is that they only have so much time to read and so much money to spend. It is quite sensible when you think about it. And a book’s jacket has to help it stand out amongst thousands of others, especially in the crime and romance sections. Jacket treatment is so important and yet the author has almost no say in it. Only mega-authors get a say in their book jackets, or re-treatments of their jackets for different countries. We usually get the UK jackets, which is more than a small mercy considering American jackets for books.

With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Bloomsbury might be whitewashing their jackets, but that doesn’t excuse it. It is offensive to suggest that black people don’t buy enough books to be represented, and that white people won’t buy a book because it has a black person on it. Looking through my extensive collection of book jackets while creating this post, I realised how many have white people on them, especially ‘literary’ titles. But then again, its just white people writing about white people, and having a black character on the front cover where there isn’t one in the book is just tokenism. It is worth noting that this isn’t the entire industry doing the same thing; look at these titles:

So in this case, while I don’t doubt Bloomsbury was in the wrong, I don’t believe they’re the only ones to whitewash a cover. They should get credit for acting quickly when shown that their decision was misinformed. However, I don’t think its fair to see it as indicative of an entire industry. I do think there’s definitely room for more representative covers, especially in YA and fantasy titles. (Unless its Game of Thrones, in which case everyone is lily-white or an Oriental savage. Dull.) But at least there seems to be some representation. So, support authors who write characters who aren’t just white and tormented, because as readers we vote with our money and that’s ultimately what the publishers seek.

For further information and advice on book covers, head on over to “8 Mistakes That Will Absolutely Kill Your Book” at Huffington Post