The Geek Feminist Revolution
May 31, 2016
There’s a seductive quality to belonging to a group, identifying as a member of a particular set of people, calling them home. We see it in how quickly people identify as a geek or a nerd, a gamer or bookworm, and how intensely we defend our chosen groups when disparaged. These identities fortify us, give us a place to call home, become our formative influences in life.
In The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley defends women and the spaces we create for ourselves in traditionally male-dominated fields. But more than that, she acknowledges the ways in which those spaces are a revolution in themselves, a testament to the women who have always been there, working to carve them out and keep them safe.
A caveat: this is not an essay collection that will coddle readers. Hurley lays out some hard truths, both for her audience and for herself, ones that highlight the ways we hurt each other and participate in cruel systems. That said, this warning should not discourage anyone from reading the book. Instead, take it as a welcome to the circles that so many women geeks inhabit today. Hurley makes an excellent guide, her experiences as a science-fiction writer and as a fan influencing and enhancing her stories.
The first part of the collection is titled “Level Up,” referencing those experiences in different “real-life” contexts. These essays illustrate part of Hurley’s journey into geekdom, and the intersections of different aspects of her life with said geekdom. Here, she builds the foundation of the rest of the book vis-a-vis her writing career. I found “What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me About the Value of Failure” to be a particularly engaging essay in its exploration of a topic that doesn’t always feel related to the writing craft.
…you aren’t going to get it right the first time, but that doesn’t mean that your efforts were failures.
A rather revolutionary thought, in that many of us are taught to succeed first and question ourselves if we don’t. Getting anything wrong can send an uncomfortable prickle down anyone’s spine, our bodies reacting viscerally to the possibility of failing, of not being good enough. Hurley reminds her readers that sometimes we just won’t be good enough, and that’s okay. It’s okay to do something, to expend our effort, and not get the result we want. What matters is whether or not we take those moments and build on them. Pretending they never happened doesn’t change the fact that they did, but letting those failures become the groundwork of our future success–that’s a decision that lends power to the person making it.
Many of Hurley’s essays are concerned with power and privilege and the people left behind. Her essays ask what we do when faced with problematic stories that we’ve written, how we come to terms with role models who have disappointed us, the systems in which we participate and how. Hurley asks these questions of herself too, and her essays display the avenues she’s taken over the years to find answers, especially with regards to her gender identity and sexuality. She tosses over the patriarchy, and the way men have always and continue to dictate the way women see themselves and each other, in her mind. She acknowledges the complicit agreement many of us don’t realize we make every day towards this system.
There are mistakes; there are always mistakes. We trip and we fall and we hurt and we are hurt.
“Geek,” the second part, and “Let’s Get Personal,” the third, are raw exhibits of those moments. Hurley tugs at the societal strings that restrain fat women who dare, and happily, beautifully so, to exist publicly and claim their space, bringing them into our view without apologies. And why should she, or they, apologize? She reminds us that our histories need to have us in them, and that staying silent won’t stop anyone from trying to erase you anyway. She talks about the draw of dark fiction, and the parts of her that respond to its call. I would be surprised if anyone walks away from this section without at least one essay that speaks to them.
This step into the personal only makes the final section of The Geek Feminist Revolution more powerful. “Revolution” doesn’t shy away from the topics that have consumed science fiction/fantasy spaces in the last few years, or the patriarchal rage that has tried to poison those spaces. Again and again, Hurley pulls herself forward past the trolls, past the melancholy canines that might bite at her heels, and says to her fellow geek feminist, “I am here, we are here, we can always be here.”
I have used “we” very deliberately in this review, because in truth, each and every one of us is complicit in the world around us. Whether it’s a literary-tinged landscape, or business-related, what we do has the power to revolutionize the people around us into something different. Hurley declares that very idea in her Hugo Award-winning essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative”:
Because when we choose to write stories, it’s not just an individual story we’re telling. It’s theirs. And yours. And ours. We all exist together. It all happens here. It’s muddy and complex and often tragic and terrifying. But ignoring half of it, and pretending there’s only one way a woman lives or has ever lived–in relation to the men that surround her–is not a single act of erasure, but a political erasure.
Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women, cattle and slaves,” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world.
As storytellers, there are more interesting choices we can make.
Make your spaces. Defend them. Learn from each other. Help each other. Kameron Hurley–and I–will be right there with you.