Keep Calm and Carry On

There’s been a series of ongoing explosions within the science fiction and fantasy community lately over a variety of interconnected topics, most of them related to gender in one fashion or another. Inflammatory articles, poorly thought-out petitions, harassers at cons, etc.

It’s easy to look at this stuff and say, “Oh my god what is wrong with fandom/the publishing industry. They’re terrible and I give up on them.”

Except, of course, that it isn’t fandom or the publishing industry. The same thing is going on in a variety of other fields, like the tech industry or atheism circles. Another organization I belong to is teetering on the edge of what could be a really nasty blow-up around similar allegations. Show me an interest group that doesn’t have these issues to one degree or another, and I’ll show you an interest group that is probably just denying the issues exist. (Even feminists haven’t achieved utopia yet.)

Of course, that kind of just moves the goalposts: “Oh my god what is wrong with humanity. They’re terrible and I give up on them.”

Well, if humanity is the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape, these kinds of conflicts are what happens when the angel and the ape get into a slap-fight. The ape aspires to be better, but is dragging the weight of its past with it; the angel could be better, but regularly comes up short. In other words, we’re working out our problems — slowly, painfully, and with a lot of mess along the way. Change isn’t easy.

But although it’s tempting to look at all the pain and vitriol and conclude that things are worse than they used to be, I believe it’s actually a sign that they’re getting better. That may be hard to swallow — especially if you’re someone for whom the issues used to be invisible, and now they’re being shoved up your nose — but it’s true. I’m not being a Pollyanna when I say that, either. It’s like a puncture wound: if the hole seals over, then the bacteria doesn’t vanish; it festers underneath. You have to lance it and let all the crap come pouring out before the wound can really heal. Or if you would prefer a less gruesome metaphor: I think at least some of what we’re observing here is what psychologists call an extinction burst. Sexism used to be rewarded in our society (and in many cases still is): laughter at the jokes, “bros before hoes,” advancement and attention for people — male and female both — who played the rigged game right. But that’s starting to change, and the result is not a simple shift toward equality, but a shift intermixed with an explosion of momentum in the other direction. “Emotional responses or aggressive behavior,” indeed.

It hurts to go through it. But that’s what we’re doing: going through it. And I believe we’ll see the other side.

Maybe not right now; maybe not even in my lifetime. Depends on where you define “the other side” as being, I suppose, since achieving one victory frequently reveals other ones we could pursue. But we have to keep on going. I kind of detest the way the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan has become a meme lately (and it’s ironic that the propaganda effort incorporating it was apparently a failure at the time), but in this case it sums up my feelings quite succinctly. I don’t mean “carry on” in the sense of “go about your daily life,” though, which is probably what the British government meant by the phrase. More like, carry on working for improvement. And maybe not so much “calm” as “usefully angry.” But “Keep Usefully Angry and Carry On Working For Improvement” really doesn’t have the same ring.

The road there has some ugly twists and turns along the way. Walking it will be painful. The end of the world (or at least the relationship/community/organization) will look extremely goddamned nigh at times — and sadly, some of those will end. But that’s where keeping calm comes in. We’ll come out the other side a bit less plummeting angel, a bit more upwardly mobile ape.

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There are 7 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Wolf Lahti

    Upwardly Mobile Apes would be a great name for a band.

  2. 2. Marie Brennan

    Hah! Yes, it would be. :-)

  3. 3. Gail P. Robertson

    Good points, Marie. I’ve noticed that the pendulum swings to one extreme, then the other, before it settles in the middle, in almost any historical change. It just takes time to find that happy-medium where the silent and vocal majority can accept the compromise. That’s why I do my best to look at the ‘big picture’ over time, rather than to focus so strongly on specific events.

  4. 4. Marie Brennan

    I don’t know that I’d agree with the “settle in the middle” part, unless the middle is taken as broad enough to cover pretty much anything that isn’t the absolute extreme, and the timescale is long enough — sometimes radical change does happen. But yes, there’s a degree of penduluming (is that a verb? IT IS NOW) going on.

  5. 5. Steven M. Long

    My struggle tends to mainly be with the fact that when people start yelling, I have a powerful urge to walk away.

    I do think that the net direction is positive, and thinking of what’s hopefully on the other side of the hill is a way of keeping myself engaged. Change is inevitable, and if you want to be part of a community you have to be part of that change, at whatever level of engagement is right, for you.

  6. 6. Marie Brennan

    Yeah, I get very tense and upset when the yelling starts — even when I’m on the side of the people doing the yelling. I like calm, sensible conversations, even though I know those don’t always do the job.


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Author Information

Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan is the author of more than forty short stories and seven novels, the most recent of which is the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy. Visit site.



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