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Yes, llamas sure are scaly!
May 22, 2013 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Because you’ve seen this story so many times, because you already know the nature and history of llamas, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to see a llama outside of these media spaces. The llamas you see don’t have scales. So you doubt what you see, and you joke with your friends about “those scaly llamas” and they laugh and say, “Yes, llamas sure are scaly!” and you forget your actual experience. -- We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative by Kameron Hurley.
posted by MartinWisse (34 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a pretty good article on an important topic with, hands down, the absolute worst fucking opening I have ever had the misfortune of experiencing. Don't let the llama weirdness ruin it for you!
posted by elizardbits at 2:42 PM on May 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


I liked it
posted by MartinWisse at 2:45 PM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I liked the llama weirdness, too! I would be very okay with "scaly llama" becoming a thing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:46 PM on May 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


It made me want to feed myself to a carnivorous llama, sorry. The rest of it was great, especially the point she makes about that moment of shock you get when you realize just how shitty your education has been regarding women's history unless you specifically study it. It's awful, and depressing. And enraging.
posted by elizardbits at 2:49 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, the llamas were an unnecessary distraction, but the rest was spot-on.
posted by SixteenTons at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2013


Yeah, I dug the llama intro as well although I can see why one could find it grating. Thanks for the link, MartinWisse!
posted by brundlefly at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The llama bit was a bit off putting. But, yes, women - and not just young women - have always fought. And been expected to fight especially when it came to urban warfare. My favourite is the old woman of Argos who killed King Pyrrhus of Epirus (he of Pyrrhic victory fame) with a well-aimed roof tile, thus saving her city. Argive women had quite a reputation on the warlike front: led by a poetess they once drove off an invading army of Spartans.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:01 PM on May 22, 2013


(Surely the opening was a nod to the classic Monty Python llama sketch.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:04 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I liked the llama thing because sometimes just regular straightforward words aren't strong enough to get the point across as immediately and directly. She could have started out writing about how women/minorities/what have you are often portrayed stereotypically but that would just be more blah blah blah, either we know or telling us again isn't going to get through. It's like, reality is so ridiculous as to not be sufficient anymore, it needs something equally ridiculous as a helmet, or something. It's hard to explain.
posted by bleep at 3:05 PM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I liked the llama thing as an image because it is so absurd and therefore works as an analog or metaphor for things who do take for granted as being realistic. The actual idea of women being warriors is not that new to me.

But the thing that I really liked and perhaps should've excerpted instead, was this bit:
I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.

I was writing a scene last night between a woman general and the man she helped put on the throne. I started writing in some romantic tension, and realized how lazy that was. There are other kinds of tension.

I made a passing reference to sexual slavery, which I had to cut. I nearly had him use a gendered slur against her. I growled at the screen. He wanted to help save her child… no. Her brother? Ok. She was going to betray him. OK. He had some wives who died… ug. No. Close advisors? Friends? Maybe somebody just… left him?

Even writing about societies where there is very little sexual violence, or no sexual violence against women, I find myself writing in the same tired tropes and motivations. “Well, this is a bad guy, and I need something traumatic to happen to this heroine, so I’ll have him rape her.” That was an actual thing I did in the first draft of my first book, which features a violent society where women outnumber men 25-1. Because, of course, it’s What You Do.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:06 PM on May 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


That is, Kameron Hurley was honest in how easy even for her, as a female writer with some sensitivity to these issues, to still slip into the same lazy cliches and stereotypes. Especially the use of rape, which is something that drives me nuts in e.g. Elizabeth Moon, who writes very nice, enjoyable light fantasy and mil-sf and in almost every book has her heroine be raped or almost raped.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:08 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Women Men Don't See by James Tiptree, Jr., mentioned in the text.

It's a bit more stranger and more ambivalent (and, I think, deliberately ironic) than the author makes it out to be -- the female characters are so alienated as a result of being completely ignored, dismissed, and presumed about as women that (SPOILER) when aliens arrive, they actually beg to be taken off the earth. Parsons, the adult woman, complains to the narrator at one point:

"Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You'll see."

Nonetheless, the narrator is bewildered when Parsons and her daughter leave the earth with a little note: "Althea and I taking extraordinary opportunity for travel. Gone several years. Please take charge our affairs. Love, Ruth."

"Insane," says the narrator. "How could a woman choose to live among unknown monsters, to say good-bye to her home, her world?"

James Tiptree, Jr. was, of course, the pen name for Alice Bradley Sheldon (who also wrote under the wonderful pen name Raccoona Sheldon). Amazingly, she kept her actual gender a secret until 1977, even though it was known that James Tiptree, Jr. was a pseudonym. She said: "A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation."

I am not sure how Tiptree's gender went unguessed when this story seems so explicitly feminist to me. Perhaps because she wrote tough-guy dialogue so well, and because, as this essay points out, we presume women are what we have been told they are, and not what they really are.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:16 PM on May 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


Well, Tiptree's gender had long been a cause of controversy, with quite a few people arguing she had to be female, which in turn led to Robert Silverberg calling her "ineluctably masculine" in the foreword to her first collection, something he was very gracious about later on.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:21 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am not sure how Tiptree's gender went unguessed when this story seems so explicitly feminist to me.

And that's not even counting The Screwfly Solution. People are dumb, when they want to be.
posted by The Bellman at 3:57 PM on May 22, 2013


Now I need to read more of Ms Sheldon's work.
posted by evilDoug at 4:28 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


James Tiptree is awesome.

I agree with this article. It's incredibly hard to escape the pulsing, super-loud narrative of our society when you engage with it, though, and I ended up feeling a little queasy that somehow being the perpetrator of violence (the warrior) is a better outcome than the receiver of violence (the object). I feel like that's a story that's still trapped inside what we've made ourselves into.
posted by selfnoise at 4:41 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only complaint I have about the scaly llamas is that she didn't reference them once or twice more.

I have no other complaints.
posted by MoTLD at 4:49 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


¡Cuidado! ¡Llamas!
posted by erniepan at 5:41 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]




Thanks for the post. I've just spent the last few hours reading it and the numerous pages it opened up when I followed link trails.

About 20 years ago I took a women's history course in University which opened my eyes to the typical historical narrative and it's lack of women but even so over the years I still get surprised when I learn more about specific women and what women did throughout history. It's so ingrained in our culture it seems.

Glad to be reminded again and learn even more. It's also inspired me to get on with exploring a story that's been haunting me for the past couple of weeks since I came across it on a tv show.
posted by Jalliah at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2013


"What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man."

No we don't. Anyway, lots of us don't. In fact, I'm not sure I know anybody who wants to do that...

I screw around with writing sci-fi-ish stuff. I like having lots of protagonists, and Like having protagonists that are the kinds of people that aren't normally protagonists. Not for political reasons, but just because that's what I like. For better or for worse, I think such folk are basically underdogs, and I like underdogs. But, honestly, if you're writing near-future stuff, you can't really write about some perfectly egalitarian utopia. You kinda have to work with reality... That's not "wanting to talk about women in one capacity..." That's writing a story that's basically about the real world, which is imperfect in that respect.

I guess I don't see that the piece moves the ball downfield much... Though I don't think it hurts to be reminded of things you already know...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:08 PM on May 22, 2013


I am not sure how Tiptree's gender went unguessed when this story seems so explicitly feminist to me.

I sure wondered at the time, thinking this was either written by a woman or the most empathic evolved man in the world. Which I certainly was not -- that story was painful to read.
posted by y2karl at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2013


I hesitate to continue to poke at the llama thing, since there are quite a few interesting points in the essay worth thinking about carefully. (Especially the passage MartinWisse quotes above.)

But, when casting about for animals that people falsely believe "hurl themselves- lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea" in order to make a point about repeated exposure to false information, lemmings seem like a more compelling choice.
posted by eotvos at 7:28 PM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm supportive of the overall idea of this article, that women fought in combat throughout history, but I'm a little bit puzzled as to why it's being addressed at a fantasy and sci-fi audience. If it's meant to upbraid fantasy authors for not having women warriors, I think it's a rather odd duck, since that's a trope that abounds in fantasy fiction.

C.L. Moore was publishing stories about Jirel of Joiry, a badass French warrior woman, in 1934. Tolkien, who barely included women in his novels, had Eowyn as a warrior-woman who was practically a Valkyrie in her toughness level, in 1955. Red Sonja was dug up from some obscure Howardiana and, while too often in a chainmail bikini, has been a mainstay of comic book fantasy. A fantasy trilogy of 25 years ago, The Deed of Paksenarrion, focuses on a female paladin. The most popular fantasy series right now, A Song of Ice and Fire, has Brienne of Tarth - you can like her or not but she's a woman who's a highly capable warrior. Also Asha Greyjoy, and in aspiration Arya Stark.

There's room to discuss the exact portrayals and characterizations and worldviews, but female warriors are a long held staple of fantasy. Am I missing something here?
posted by graymouser at 8:10 PM on May 22, 2013


Reading this is making me wanna rewatch Winter's Bone.
posted by cthuljew at 8:50 PM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm supportive of the overall idea of this article, that women fought in combat throughout history, but I'm a little bit puzzled as to why it's being addressed at a fantasy and sci-fi audience. If it's meant to upbraid fantasy authors for not having women warriors, I think it's a rather odd duck, since that's a trope that abounds in fantasy fiction.

It appears to be in a response to a meta discussion that's been going around sci-fi fantasy world and as well as crossing into historical fiction world for the past while about sexism and female roles in their respective story environments. There does appear to be a segment of sci fi/fan readers that take issue with female roles, particularly main characters that aren't 'realistic' because...history as well as justify stereotypical sexist tropes and general sexism because...history.
posted by Jalliah at 9:15 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


the female characters are so alienated as a result of being completely ignored, dismissed, and presumed about as women that (SPOILER) when aliens arrive, they actually beg to be taken off the earth

I read a little more meta than that. The male narrator is revealing his own bias in his final thoughts. How could women live among aliens who know nothing of them, who take no notice of them? But of course, they already do. Who among us might already be best prepared to live among aliens?

There's another, subtler, perhaps more traditional interpretation available -- that this wasn't some kind of feminist escape, but a wholly planned and directed government operation (breeding included). Grand old Phyllis is simply her M, in other words. I don't think there's quite enough textual evidence to support that, but it fits in with his own thoughts about his pal in "foreign procurement" and unanswered questions about the provenance of her device, and even with the circumstances of the narrator joining them (i.e. a setup, and he didn't take the bait). In any case, this still works as a feminist reworking of a Steve Canyon-esque jungle adventure story, where the women turn out to have agency (and work for an agency...) and have purposeful lives and goals outside of what some man wants.
posted by dhartung at 2:39 AM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


If it's meant to upbraid fantasy authors for not having women warriors, I think it's a rather odd duck, since that's a trope that abounds in fantasy fiction.

But it doesn't really, actually. The Woman Warrior, sure, that's a trope. The one woman warrior. The exceptional woman warrior, the one who is so different because she is a warrior and how shocking and amazing and exciting it is! The women aren't just casually at war, ever-present in fight scenes, unexceptional and just there. There are no background women warriors. They always shine.

And that's the problem, it says that women warriors are exceptional and if you, little girl, aren't exceptional, don't even dream of being that. You're going to have to fight an uphill battle, by golly, and you'd better be beautiful or extra strong, or you're doomed to fail. Are you the hero of the story? If you're not, don't even bother trying.
posted by corb at 5:13 AM on May 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


You said it, corb. Smurfette as Woman Warrior.

One thing I found so refreshing when I read The Hunger Games was how given it was that Katniss was a participant. The story didn't include anyone saying "A girl is competing? But but but a girl could never win the Hunger Games!" It was just an accepted thing that girls participated, multiple girls. Any girl could picture herself in the shoes of Katniss or Rue or the other girls in the games.
posted by cadge at 8:48 AM on May 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


A piece came out recently that included some of the correspondence between LeGuin and Tiptree. LeGuin apparently thought Tiptree might be male but gay. And as I recall, Tiptree was having enough trouble with the dual identity thing that she almost "killed" Tiptree, but then got nominated for some award or other. I think the letters were published in the Magazine of SF/F as "Dear Starbear".
posted by rmd1023 at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2013


There does appear to be a segment of sci fi/fan readers that take issue with female roles, particularly main characters that aren't 'realistic' because...history as well as justify stereotypical sexist tropes and general sexism because...history.

As a freaking medievalist by training this "because history" thing makes me want to tear my hair out. Because LAZY HISTORY and people's ignorance, thanks.
posted by immlass at 12:30 PM on May 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jalliah: "It appears to be in a response to a meta discussion that's been going around sci-fi fantasy world and as well as crossing into historical fiction world for the past while about sexism and female roles in their respective story environments."

They can imagine worlds with dragons and elves and shit, but they can't imagine a society where women know how to hit people with things?
posted by brundlefly at 12:57 PM on May 23, 2013


As a freaking medievalist by training this "because history" thing makes me want to tear my hair out. Because LAZY HISTORY and people's ignorance, thanks.

No kidding. IANAMedievalist, but good grief... did y'all know that, the vast majority of the time, archaeologists gender skeletons by grave goods buried with them, since checking bone tells is time-consuming (expensive)? What this means is, skeletons buried with weapons = men. Skeletons buried with jewelry sans weapons, or with cooking/sewing utensils = women.

HOW THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LEARN SQUAT ABOUT GENDER ROLES THAT WAY.

Ahem.
...the study looked at 14 Viking burials from the era, definable by the Norse grave goods found with them and isotopes found in their bones that reveal their birthplace. The bones were sorted for telltale osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male burial.

Overall, McLeod reports that six of the 14 burials were of women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. Warlike grave goods may have misled earlier researchers about the gender of Viking invaders, the study suggests.
Llamas with fur rather than scales! Who could have guessed. /passive-aggressive sarcasm
posted by fraula at 2:58 AM on May 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Revenge of the Squamous Llamas!

Did a Murderer in Waiting Go Undetected Because She Was a Woman?
posted by 0rison at 2:21 PM on May 24, 2013


They can imagine worlds with dragons and elves and shit, but they can't imagine a society where women know how to hit people with things?

Yes, which is I think the bigger point in this article - people think things because that's what they are told to think or that's what language directs us to think.

There are news reports about "soldiers" and "female soldiers". The soldier must have the female qualification - for some reason. We tell ourselves it's because they seem to be an exception to a rule, except that history doesn't really bare out that rule.

Let's take the word "actor", as another example. I use the word actor interchangeably for men and women because I don't tend to like gendered words when there are no need for them. I don't use the word doctress for a female doctor, for example.

But using the word actor for anyone who acts always gets lost in translation when I'm talking to, in particular, Americans. This is just in my experience. But working in independent theatre in Australia, I rarely hear the word actress. If I need to qualify, I use the phrases "male actor" and "female actor".

I still think the word doctor implies a man, where nurse implies a woman, where actor implies a man - in society, in general. Even though female doctors and female actors have been around for a long, long time - and we're not disabused of that notion as we are about women who are soldiers with that old "because history" argument discussed above.

We seem much more prone to accepting fantasy elements because they don't exist, but female warriors are exceptional in fantasy stories because we are so often told they don't exist. Even now, they are treated as exceptions to some goddamn rule.
posted by crossoverman at 8:21 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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