One of the talks that had everyone buzzing at Women in Secularism was Rebecca Goldstein’s. She introduced an idea that clicked for everyone — that all people have a need to matter in the world, that all of us strive to make some difference, have some effect, on others. It’s true of everyone, men and women alike, but what often happens is that women are ignored — a women has to work much harder than a man to matter. On a small scale, it happens at every committee meeting in which a woman proposes an idea and it’s neglected until a man echoes it (and then he gets the credit); on a large scale, open your history books and look at the genders of the notable names. There’s a bit of a numerical disparity.
Kameron Hurley has written an excellent essay on these narratives that make women invisible, ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. She’s coming at it from the perspective of a SF/Fantasy writer who has noticed all the lazy tropes we expect from our stories: the hero is a man, or if she’s a woman, you either get the novelty of her doing ‘man-like’ things (and isn’t it unfair that we tie those activities to gender?) or she’s constrained to stereotypical women’s ways. “Woman” is a synonym for “Other” so often.
If women are “bitches” and “cunts” and “whores” and the people we’re killing are “gooks” and “japs” and “rag heads” then they aren’t really people, are they? It makes them easier to erase. Easier to kill. To disregard. To un-see.
But the moment we re-imagine the world as a buzzing hive of individuals with a variety of genders and complicated sexes and unique, passionate narratives that have yet to be told – it makes them harder to ignore. They are no longer, “women and cattle and slaves” but active players in their own stories.
It’s a wonderful read, go read it.
Another recommendation: she references The Women Men Don’t See by James Tiptree. It’s online! You can read that, too! It’s a story that will make you think. You’ve heard of the unreliable narrator…this one features the irrelevant narrator, a man who comes along for the ride and really doesn’t understand anything that’s going on, because he can’t see the real protagonists as anything but a couple of women.
The theme resonates with me in so many ways. It’s not just feminism, but atheism and science that demand that you open your eyes and see the world as it really is. Every time we break out of our preconceptions, we gain.