Politics - Gender Politics - Author responsibility

I've always found Rush Limbaugh creepy. And not funny. So I don't listen to his broadcasts. That's freedom, isn't it.

But I was raised a feminist. These days I believe that freedom is more important than equality, but fighting for equality is sometimes the same as fighting for freedom. The current Republican climate, though intensely silly seen from this side of the Atlantic, is also cause for concern, increasingly so, in the light of the Republican Party's current attitude to women.

I have chosen therefore to be mildly political with the excuse that an author should have a heightened awareness of the potential for his language to connote at the same time as it denotes; the potential for his language to be misunderstood or taken maliciously out of context; the potential (far more than most realize) to reveal the author's underlying attitudes and assumptions. When you write a story, you aren't taking a story out of yourself and putting it on the page. You are putting yourself on the page through a story.

On Feb. 29, Limbaugh said, "She [Fluke] wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."

As I say, I don't think RL is funny, generally. So in criticizing him, I have to examine my bias very personally. If I had broadcast remarks like that, it would have been out of a desire to be funny, and I might not have seen how it might have made people feel bad; having said that, I would not have singled out one individual the way that he did. I would have generalized it to something like "these people want to be paid to have sex" - to me that still sounds unforgivably extremist; deliberately associating birth control with prostitution. 

Forget the ad hominem for a moment, and consider what you do when you say "paying for someone else's birth control is like paying them to have sex".

Women who take control of their own reproduction are being responsible. They are being adult. They are controlling their own selves and their own future. Women are denied birth control either by societies that can't afford to provide if for free (rare, but they do exist) or by societies where women do not have the same freedom of self determination that men do.

Women who are paid for sex are, in the vast majority of cases, abused, exploited and severely at risk of major harm. They are not free. They are not responsible. Does anyone think that women who are paid for sex are in control of their lives? That they think it is the best way to provide themselves with a secure future?

Apparently, this is what the Right wants at the moment. For women to feel disenfranchised. For women to have no control, no contribution to make. Associating birth control with prostitution goes straight down that line. Make women ashamed of the freedom they've fought for, so that they deny it to themselves. Same technique as preaching 'abstinence' ;  same technique as telling girls not to dress like sluts if they don't want to get raped. Shame is what keeps women subjugated even in countries where their equality and freedom is statutory.

So even without the ad hominem, this 'joke' reveals RL's attitude to birth control, and to female sexual freedom. His apology is not a change of attitude. It is of no value to his public. It is of less value still to Sandra Fluke. If he wants to apologise to her, he should damn well do it in person, so she can chuse to accept it or not. I would.

If you have political attitudes, and not everybody does, they will come out in your writing. You can't, and arguably, shouldn't, prevent it. You should, however, be aware of it. It doesn't matter if you are writing about Dragons, Spaceships, Vampires, Zombies, zombie-dragon-vampires-in-space, your politics will out, and they will offend someone.

I may be an outspoken defender of author freedom, but there is such a thing as right and wrong even in our apparently free and wildly creative domain. It is right to know how your own real world attitudes seep into your writing, how it manifests itself, what it reveals about you.


I know an author of heroic fantasy in whose work the only women you ever see are either black-and-midnight-hags or random corpses. I know a sci-fi author where the only women are occasional eye-candy. These may be extreme examples, but authors can learn to mitigate this. E.E. "Doc" Smith was well aware of his own inability to write convincing female dialogue, so he had his secretary write most of the dialogue. That may be an extreme case too, but a revealing one.

Me, I'm incapable of writing convincing all male dialogue. I also can't do those action sequences that I think of as the long big punch-up. That might sound a little like a boast but it really is a handicap. really. honest.

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