Archive for July 2, 2014

Fallen Idol: Marion Zimmer Bradley

(Warning: discussion of child abuse/molestation)

Yesterday, after writing the “What is My Feminism” post I went back and added a section about being a geeky feminist/feminist geek. Later upon some perusing of the Net, I came across some news that made geek feminism all the more important. One of my most beloved authors (deceased for 15 years) Marion Zimmer Bradley, had been accused by her daughter, Moira Greyland of child abuse and molestation. I wish I were more shocked by this, but I had already heard rumblings about her husband, Walter Breen being a convicted child molester, and that she (and possibly others) were involved in covering this up before it came to light. I hadn’t read anything about these situations however, so today and last night I perused thru the deposition that M.Z.B. gave about her husband. As I read it, my youthful idealized picture of a pioneering feminist writer, who encouraged female authors to break into the male-dominated field of science fiction and fantasy in the 1960’s-80’s fell by the wayside. A callous, cynical picture of a woman with no regard or respect for the rights and dignity of children and young teenagers emerged. She knew about the abuse that was going on, and did nothing to stop it. She had this distorted sense of “open-minded, non-judgmental” attitude towards the sexual autonomy of young people (under 18) to “choose” relationships with older adults. Umm, no. She even helped her husband edit a book he wrote about pederasty to justify all this! So it’s quite believable to me that a woman who aided, abetted and defended her husband in all this would do it herself.

One thing I am glad to hear of is that for the most part, the science fiction/fantasy fandom community has been supportive of Ms. Greyland and believing her accusations. She was overshadowed by the fame of her mother, and didn’t want to take away the joy she brought to her fans! What a terrible burden to bear, alone for so many years.

To me this is a giant lesson in the dangers of fame and celebrity and the power that comes with them that can be so easily abused.
It’s also an illustration of the feminist idea that “the personal is political”. Marion wasn’t a political activist, but as I said she did a lot to advance women writers in a time and genres when they were often excluded. But in her personal life, she was complicit and active participant in abusive behavior against her own children, and other people’s children.

Might I add, that while not Pagan herself (she was at the very least a very Goddess-loving Christian) she was very influential on the growth of the Pagan and Goddess/feminist spirituality movement with her book The Mists of Avalon- a re-telling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of Morgaine, a priestess of the Goddess. I know many Pagans, myself including that credit that book with at least partially leading them to their path. There is also a lot of overlap between Neo-Paganism and science fiction/fantasy fandom, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area that Bradley and her associates were a part of. Even for Pagans who aren’t into these fandoms, we all need to take a cold, hard look at the attitudes that long protected these abusers within the science fiction convention culture. We’re outsiders, we’re different, we don’t want “the normal people” to judge us. So we’ll keep it a secret. We’re liberal about sex, and that means not judging *any* kind of sexual behavior. Gee, does any of that sound familiar to you?

Note: I do not think it is a productive course of action to shame everyone into getting rid of/never re-reading/reading in the first place M.Z.B.’s books. Do those things if you must, or examine her books again with her actions in mind if you will, but the most important thing is that we support the victims, listen to them, protect them, and put policies and cultural attitudes in place that prevent this from happening. Moira and her brother Mark are both not heirs to the estate, so they are not able to profit off of their mother’s work. However, Moira is a musician and Mark is an artist so we can go support their own work and empower their own voices.

Links:

Deirdre Saoirse Moen: It’s Worse Than I Knew (public share of Moira’s e-mails about her mother’s abuse)

Telereads: Marion Zimmer Bradley was a child abuser, says her own daughter

Jim C. Hines (SF author) Rape, Abuse & MZB

Jason Pitzl-Waters- The Wild Hunt blog- MZB, Abuse & Cautionary Tales

Dianne Sylvan- Vampires Saved My Soul…after MZB tried to kill it (not about abuse but it shows more of MZB’s true character)

Diana Paxson (author who collaborated on Avalon books) comments on the situation. She does not deny that MZB was involved in abuse, but says she did not witness any of it.

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July 2, 2014 at 12:21 pm 1 comment

What is My Feminism?

So in my last post I discussed how there are many feminisms, and that my feminism may not be your feminism and that’s OK (and sometimes your feminism may not be OK) So how do I go about defining my feminism? You may be asking this question for yourself. Well, what are your experiences with different forms of oppression, and base your feminism on those experiences, while continuing to expand your understanding of others’.

*Disabled feminism- centers on the experiences of women (and men and other folks) with disabilities- both mental and physical, whether someone is born with a disability or acquires it later in life. Adults with disabilities often complain of being treating condescendingly, as incompetent eternal children- just as women (regardless of ability) often have. The question of career vs. marriage and family that middle-class feminists struggle over often seems equally out of reach to many people with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities have had their reproductive and sexual choices taken away from them. Historically (and still to this day sometimes) women (and men) who did not conform to their roles were often labelled mentally ill and locked up in institutions. Women (and men) with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse by partners and caregivers.

*I am a religious feminist– I view religion as a social/memetic structure that can be used for both oppression and liberation. Some feminists think that all religions are inherently patriarchal, but mostly put a critical eye on Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Other feminists try to keep their politics away from their religion. Hate to break it to you: if your religion involves other humans, it’s political. I’m a Celtic polytheist/Druid and a Unitarian, which are pretty feminist-friendly religions for the most part, but we have our own problems.

*I am sex-neutral rather than sex-positive. (In regards to anything involving consenting adults- number/gender/anatomy- it’s none of my business!) Like religion, sexuality can be a beautiful and empowering thing, but it also can be terribly oppressive thing when it is violent or non-consensual. We also need to affirm the existence and validity of asexual-spectrum people and understand that they can live full happy lives without sex (or having it play a less prominent role in their relationships)

*I am trans*, intersex, non-binary and genderqueer inclusive. Gender and sex are complicated things, we need to give everyone the space and freedom to work out what their gender and sexual identity is and stop worrying about whether their gender presentation, anatomy/name/pronouns/clothes and other things “match” or not.

*I am a geeky feminist or a feminist geek– I’m involved with various subcultures that we in Western societies call “geeky”- tabletop & role-playing gaming, science fiction, fantasy etc. Traditionally these groups tend to be rather white male-dominated though this is changing. So I do think putting a multicultural feminist viewpoint on geek cultures does matter- they may be “just hobbies” and maybe most geeks aren’t that interested in activism, but social justice issues matter here too.

*I believe reform movements in other religions, cultures and countries need to be led by women (and people in general) within them and it is up to them to decide whether a custom, practice, can be reformed or re-framed in a feminist way or if it should be abolished.  These folks may also not want to label themselves “feminist” for whatever reason.

*Peace!  Yes, it’s great that women and gays/lesbians/bisexuals (but trans folks not yet) are more equal in the military. But that doesn’t mean I’m pro-military. We’re forgetting the long history of women’s leadership in the peace movement (though I don’t care much for the essentialist arguments about women being inherently more peaceful) Remember who is hurt most by war? Remember whose needs don’t get taken care of because we’re too busy funding war? Remember who really profits and who suffers?

*Capitalism is a system we need to seriously question. Within this system can we ever truly value people over profits? In the United States, the government is expected to enact laws to “force” companies (legal persons!) to be moral in how they treat their workers, the environment and so forth. Is this really working, and is this a system that feminists just want to carve their female niche into?

July 2, 2014 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

There are Many Feminisms

Rose F reblogged this discussion- Feminist Friday: The Label Revisited

(Read the earlier discussion about whether feminism is still a useful political label here. )

I was raised a feminist- and a Christian (United Methodist to be specific) as I grew up and became more aware of the wider world, I realized that much like the social justice-focused Christianity I was raised with contrasted with what other people called the same religion, so did feminism. My mother stayed at home with me as a kid, she did most of the housework, cleaning and cooking. She supported my dad as his career led him from state to state. Later she went back to college and finished her degree. Is my mother a perfect feminist? Is my father? Am I? Sometimes I see her self-consciousness about her body, the belittling comments she makes about what other women wear (that some might call “slut-shaming”) I remember the classist attitudes my parents sometimes have shown, that I’ve had to unlearn, and so have they- especially as they’ve found themselves slipping out of the middle-class.

I went to Augsburg College, and took women’s studies classes there. I already knew the practice of feminism, it was there I learned the theory.  I encountered many women my age who said “I’m not a feminist…but.” This annoyed me, and made me feel more attached to the term. Of course a stay at home mom can be a feminist- my mother and my grandmother are (were) both feminists. They love men and married them and had children and are feminine in their own ways- but neither do they judge women who lived their lives differently.

A point my partner made to me, is that someone else’s feminism may not look like it to me, but it may be feminist within their own cultural context. He told me this in defense of his mother, who has stuck by the church of her upbringing- the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, a denomination in which women are not allowed to teach adults or serve on the church council, let alone be ministers. I still am doubtful of whether I’d consider her a feminist, because to me that means challenging sexism in a more active way. She likes to keep the peace and not rock the boat. Yet I know, if someone was making sexist comments in front of her, she would probably confront them.

I would say that feminist has the same problems that “liberal” and “progressive” both do- they too are used as pejoratives by conservatives. These terms all have both historically and in present times included white middle/upper-class, non-disabled women and men who don’t get other issues. Liberal actually means a supporter of capitalism, an economic system which I am at the very least, skeptical of, and progressive relates to the concept of the “myth of progress“.  So I can understand if some Black women (and other women of color) prefer to call themselves womanists, and if some disabled women don’t identify with the term. Maybe feminism reinforces the gender binary, or implies that we don’t care about men and the ways that patriarchy and other systems of oppression hurt them. I’d rather redefine feminism for myself. Alternative terms have been suggested- but face it, no one knows an “equalitarian” is. Humanism means something else– and some humanists are not very feminist!

I’d rather not waste a bunch of time over telling people what “real feminism” is or isn’t- much like how I avoid all the debates over what “real paganism” is. What I will say is- this is my kind of feminism, and that (trans-exclusive, ableist, Girls Gone Wild, Lean In, et al.) isn’t. Other feminisms- like womanism/Black feminism or Muslim or Mormon feminism- may not be *my kind of feminism* but it doesn’t mean I have an objection to them overall, they are just not based on my experiences in my cultural context. I can learn from them and appreciate them and take some insights to further develop my own feminism, while acknowledging where I get my ideas.

What matters to me is not what labels people use, but the actions I see them taking.

(Note: explanation of *my kind of feminism* forthcoming)

July 2, 2014 at 3:02 am 3 comments


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