When Heroes Kill: Character, Culture, Context

Like everyone else on the planet (it seems), we’ve been watching the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil on Netflix. It’s an excellent series, with great acting, great writing, character development for EVERYONE, even the villains, and better treatment of women than any of the other comic adaptations, big or small screen, that I’ve yet seen. (Netflix did not pay me to say this.)

I never followed Daredevil the Book, although I must have seen the character around in other books or read about him or something, because when the Ben Affleck movie version came out (I liked it. So sue me.), I already knew the basics of the character. In fact, I must have learned his origins early on, because when I read the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles origin story, my first thought was “OMG, they came out of the same accident that made Daredevil!!!!”

Anyway, one thing I didn’t know was that a central theme of the Daredevil mythos is, “Is it okay for the hero to kill, or does that make him as bad as the villains? How do you accomplish your mission without crossing that line?” I’ve nutshelled the idea here, because it’s a complex question that would take me many more words to properly express. In comic books, as well as in much literature in a contemporary setting, the heroes DON’T KILL. It’s part of what defines them, the reluctance to take a life and the willingness to turn criminals over to the law. They might beat the crap out of them first. They might maim and mutilate. But they don’t kill.

In the mid-eighties, when I was doing my heaviest comic book reading, several heroes crossed this line. Green Arrow and Batman both come to mind (I was mostly a DC reader), but there may have been others. There may be others now. And for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about straight-up superhero books rather than darker anti-heroes or horror books, where people got killed all the time.

I started thinking about this again, watching Daredevil, because it’s a question I had to face in my own work: Can the hero take out the villains and still be a hero? When I was writing A Maid in Bedlam, it was one of my central problems as an author. I wanted him to do it, without question. I wanted him to do it because I’d given him a sword and I wanted him to use it. Because the idea of staging a giant bloodbath on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder tickled me. And, frankly, because a big, well-built guy competent with a sword is a huge turn on. But it made me queasy, because the bad guys were humans, not supernatural entities. I didn’t know if letting Timber kill them would be okay.

Except, if he didn’t, the problem would remain. You couldn’t keep most of these people in a jail; I established that early on. Not unless you denied them any kind of human interaction pretty much forever, which would be inhumane. Well, long story short, I had my bloodbath. My central issue became keeping my protagonists out of prison. And none of my readers rose up to complain about my choice.

Why not?

“Violence isn’t always the answer, he knows. Some would say it’s never the answer. “Violence begets violence,” goes the old saw. It feeds on itself and is never satisfied. When you’ve had your revenge, wiped out your enemies, what then? It’s a letdown, a disappointment, coming off that energy. Like after sex, when things go dark for a time, and you feel as if there really should have been more to it. So you keep after it, keep after that transcendent feeling, until you wear yourself out, and then, at least you can sleep.

Lots of heroes kill. They kill the villains in Epic Fantasy and Historical Fiction, in Science Fiction and Thrillers and Paranormal. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo killed Stormtroopers and TIE fighter pilots. Jamie Fraser kills his uncle and numerous English. Rand al’Thor kills people (though at times he feels really bad about it). So why not the heroes of Contemporary and Urban Fantasy? Why not those heroes who are larger than life, who populate THIS world? Oliver Queen spent the entire first season of Arrow putting down criminals and getting vilified for it. Then he had a change of heart. But has it made him any more effective in pursuing his mission? Has it made him any more popular? Current events in the series point to no.

There are several good reasons not to kill your villains off. In serialized fiction, the obvious one is you might need them again in another story arc. Creating a good villain is hard work! Don’t dispose of them unless you absolutely have to. Another reason not to kill your villains would be that it doesn’t serve the story. I’m still mad that Lursa and B’Etor were summarily dispatched in the travesty that was Star Trek: Generations. But why balk at getting rid of horrible people you don’t need?

By the way, I’m not proposing any definitive answer one way or the other. I’m just looking at something that interests me.

One question that comes up when you raise this topic is: “How long can you keep doing that before you become the thing you’re trying to stop?” Another is, “Can violence lead to lasting peace?” (And thanks to Kris Holt for raising both of those on Twitter when I was exploring this question there.) My personal answers are, I don’t think anything leads to a truly lasting peace, because everything is ephemeral. It’s probably no good to stir up conflict or to go looking for it, but being prepared to meet it? Sure. Of course, this raises the question of “How do you know when you’re prepared enough?” which can lead to arms races and all kinds of tricky stuff when you take it into a larger sphere. But I’m talking about a personal level, rather than a governmental one. As for the first question, I personally don’t believe it follows that one thing necessarily leads to the other. All kinds of things make a difference: Motivation, Ego, Mindfulness to name a few. It’s true that when you train in a martial art, MOST of the practice is learning to balance the Art with the Martial. Learning to cross the street when you sense danger, rather than take on the gang. Or so my Sensei used to say.

I’ve also got a cop-out answer: The question isn’t really applicable in my books, because my hero isn’t a vigilante.

 He’s pretty sure Caitlin would tell him violence isn’t the answer at all. She has a soft heart. She feels bad about killing slugs in the garden. But Caitlin never had the experience of the world that he had. She  turns inward; he turns outward. Everything he is, he shows to the world, even if the world finds it an affront. She has secrets at Her core that no one can penetrate. She protects Herself from the world, and he flies in its face. So he’s learned that there must be violence, sometimes. After all, the slugs in the garden must be killed. They’d take over, else.

Of course, context matters. In a historical novel, we can say that killing each other in the year 1233, or 1842, wasn’t uncommon. People lived closer to death. In Science Fiction, in Epic Fantasy, we get to define the terms. Plus, those villains we choose for our heroes to kill could often be replaced with cardboard cutouts. We know them only as antagonists, not as people. I’ve noticed when authors delve into their villains as people, examine what motivates them instead of simply saying “Bad Guy,” the characters are much less likely to meet their Fates at the hand of the hero. Because then the hero would be killing a human being rather than a trope. And it’s not okay to kill human beings, or to “humanize” the alien species we mean to kill. We know the Cave Troll in Lord of the Rings is a danger. We never hear about the Cave Troll’s childhood or the Cave Troll’s mother.

I do this myself. It’s hard for me, because I never have been able to subscribe to notions of absolute good and absolute evil. One reason I like my first book less than others is that the antagonists are less fully developed (and I still had a problem with disposing of one of them). I do believe that people aren’t inherently one thing or the other, but that circumstances make us what we are. So, in order to justify getting rid of them, I have to dehumanize my villains. I don’t explore them enough as people. And I still have a horrible time coming up with actions bad enough to merit a death sentence.

I believe that we like to think of our contemporary culture as more civilized, and that in civilized societies we don’t go around killing people out of hand. Not up close and personal. War doesn’t count. The rhetoric of war allows us to dehumanize vast numbers of people, be they of a different culture, religion, race, gender, or what have you, the better to slaughter them. When you kill someone up close and personal, it’s “murder,” no matter what your justification. Now, I don’t have a problem with this (I’d hope it would be obvious that I’m not encouraging terminal solutions to arguments). I’m not even a supporter of “capital punishment” (lovely euphemism). The justice system is, in my opinion, too flawed in many regards to hand out death sentences. If new evidence comes up afterward, it’s too late. If a capital charge is proven beyond doubt, the appeals process is so drawn-out that it becomes its own punishment. I do believe that some criminals probably need to be removed from society on a more or less permanent basis. I also believe their numbers are smaller than we think, and even of those possibly quite a few would do well on some kind of frontier planet, where “less civilized” actions might be an actual life skill. Pity we don’t have one.

But the question remains to me: Does the choice to apply terminal justice make a person less of a hero? In the case of Timber “He-Man” MacDuff, I don’t like to think so. He’s not arbitrary. He does what he has to and no more. When he’s killed, it’s been to protect those less able to protect themselves, and it’s always the last possible solution (except for those couple times when he was younger and more hot-tempered). He remembers every face.

As far as writing goes, I think you can choose one way or the other and still make your character sympathetic. It’s a matter of balance, in the character and in the story. Timber is both a swordsman and a healer. His blade has two edges: One to harm, and one to heal. Sometimes surgery is necessary. I expect the question of who made him Judge, Jury, and Executioner will come up again in a later book (actually, I know it will). For now, I thought it through and gave him leave to do what he felt necessary.

Some people think they have no right to judge. To label this one a slug, and this one not. To make the choice between life and death.
He’s not one of them.

(All block quotes taken from “Summoning Scáthach,” in the collection Fits o’ the Season, © 2012 by Katherine Lampe)

I Will Not Be Silent

I will not be silent because people dislike the truth I speak. I will be respectful and open to discussion. I will do my best to be considerate. But I will not pussyfoot around, and I will not worry about treading on sensibilities of which I have never been informed.

I will speak up and speak openly about my issues and feelings, without giving in to fear. I expect those with whom I engage in discussion to do the same. But I will feel no contrition about pushing boundaries I don’t know exist.

I will listen with an open mind to reasoned discourse. I might even change my mind about my own position. But I will not be derailed, or swayed by nothing more than consistent and ever more strident denial and refusal to consider my views. If necessary, I will cite sources to support my position.

I will speak my truth with the awareness that my truth is my own and may not be anyone else’s. But I will not be responsible for unspoken personal truth. It is not my job to probe for the hidden thing, lest I cause offense to closely-held beliefs and apprehensions that remain unshared.

I will address behaviour. I will not condemn identity, feelings, or experience. But I can’t promise never to brush up against issues of identity, feelings, or experience that I have no clue exist in a manner which might be painful.

I will back off if asked, in the full realization that backing off does not imply backing down. I will agree to disagree. I expect the same treatment from others.

I will own my shit and I expect others to do the same. People who consistently refuse to own their shit are not worth my time and energy.

I will speak about my experience. I will say, “This happened.” I may or may not name the parties involved in my experiences, at my own discretion and not out of fear of reprisal. It is neither slanderous nor abusive to speak of my lived experience, or to stand up for myself and my gender. In speaking of my lived experience, I will not make judgments as to character, worth, morality, or other intangibles. But I will call bullshit when I see it and I will point out flawed arguments and definitions.

I will not assign blame. Neither will I accept it where blamemongering is a personal attack or diversionary tactic. I will take responsibility for my behaviour, but I will not accept personal attacks.

I will not refrain from pointing out problematic behaviour, even, or perhaps especially, when it comes from people in my personal circle or those who consider themselves allies. The bonds of friendship do not excuse a person from being sexist, racist, homo- and/or transphobic, or a general, all around douche. A person may be an ally to one group while still holding bigoted ideas of another. A person who seems to be an ally may still act out of unearned privilege toward the group with which they claim alliance. Making people aware of this is not a fault. It is not malicious gossip when I speak from my own lived experience. It is an effort to facilitate safety in interactions.

Personal work is never-ending. Neither I, nor anyone, gets a free pass because we did a portion of it, or once questioned ourselves, our beliefs, our actions, our issues, or our privilege.

Silence is violence. Silence allows privilege to go unquestioned, power structures to remain as they are, and abuses to continue. Silence supports the status quo.

I will not be silent, nor will I be silenced.

This is my declaration to myself, above and below, by the goddesses and gods of my house and my personal Patron. By earth, air, fire, and water I so declare.

So mote it be.




Pursuant to Yesterday’s Shitfest

Random Fallout

Lost a bunch of people I had thought were friends. I tell myself it’s better to know if people are really good friends or not, but that doesn’t stop the hurt. Heard many words of support, including my personal favorite: “Dumbledore said it takes more bravery to stand up to your friends than it does to stand up to your enemies. Dumbledore would have been on your side.”

From what I’ve heard, Jason preemptively unfollowed and/or blocked everyone who has shown me any kind of support on Twitter, whether or not they followed him in the first place, and whether or not they were party to the actual conversation.

I purely loathe that there are sides in this matter. That what was a(n admittedly heated) discussion turned into a huge fucking deal, with battle lines drawn up.

This is supposed to be my fault, incidentally, because “it’s wrong to slander Jason on the Internet.”

1. It’s not slander to say what a particular person actually did. It’s not slander to post screen shots of a person’s actual words.

2. I don’t feel any more obligation to protect the identity of a guy who defended a sexist position beyond the point of rationality than I would to protect the identity of a guy who groped me in an elevator at a convention or drugged my drink. You can think this is hyperbole if you like. But it’s a position I’ve tried to remain true to ever since I reported being raped fifteen minutes after a guy held a knife to my throat and told me he’d come back and kill me if I told anyone what happened. (They never caught the guy, whose face I never saw, but as you can see, I’m still here.)

The Rebuttal

Apparently Jason wrote his own blog post. I’m not going to link to it, but I encourage you to seek it out and go read it for a different perspective than mine. I say “apparently” because I did not read it for myself. I asked my husband to read it and summarize it for me. I trust him to have done this to the best of his ability and without inserting his own agenda or letting the fact that we’re married unduly influence him. But I want to be absolutely clear that I did not read it for myself and so the next portion of this post is based on my husband’s summary.

Accordingly, from Jason’s perspective, he’s been having a rough time and dealing with some triggering issues. When he made a statement about it on Twitter, “an incident” ensued wherein he got bullied, his points were dismissed, and he was judged. The upshot of the post seems to be that “you don’t really know me, and if you really knew me you wouldn’t be so mean to me.” Again, I encourage you to seek out the post and read it for yourself, and make your own decision about whether this interpretation is accurate.

1. Making sweeping generalizations about anything on Twitter isn’t a great way either to deal with your issues or invite measured conversation. Making sweeping generalizations about sexism from a place of unrecognized privilege and shouting “INCORRECT” whenever someone with an opposing view raises a point isn’t engaging in a dialogue.

2. At no time did Jason own his behaviour. He did not say, “I’m dealing with some issues that are really difficult.” He did not say, “Someone accused me of mansplaining and I feel shitty because I don’t think I’m that guy.” He did, at one point, tell my husband that someone had asked him to stop mansplaining (as I mentioned in my previous post). My husband’s response was, “If a woman asks you to stop mansplaining, maybe a good thing to do would be check your behaviour instead of denouncing the whole concept as sexist.” Jason’s reply: “I have. Many Times.” When I consider this answer, what I hear is, “I checked my behaviour and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, so THEY SHOULD STOP SAYING IT.” Moreover, he several times complained that it was unfair for people who are allies (or see themselves as such) to be lumped together with “real” sexist guys. Well, dude, A) That’s not women’s problem, and if you want it to stop why don’t you try being an ally by working to educate men instead of complaining about semantics, and B) You’re a white guy (though I’ve recently been informed he’s gender fluid, rather than cis as I thought). You rolled the dice and got handed the lowest difficulty setting for the game of life. If you want to be a true ally, this means checking your goddam privilege multiple times every day. Claiming ally status doesn’t exempt you. In fact, it makes your work harder. Step up to the plate and deal or leave the game.

3. You’re right; I don’t know you. I know a little about you. I know you have issues and you struggle with depression. In point of fact, I have asked if I could do anything for you or if you wanted to talk multiple times, and you’ve always declined. You gave me no opportunity to know you better. Therefore, I can only judge you by your behaviour, which was abrasive, defensive, and bordered on the irrational. And by the way, you don’t know me, either.

4. I am sick to death of being blamed for other people’s hurt feelings and altogether through with cosseting people, putting their emotional state above my own, and being required to use psychic powers to divine what the fuck is going on with them when they don’t tell me. You don’t get to play the “you don’t really know me” card.

I’m An Abusive Bully

The most delightful part of my evening yesterday was receiving an email from a woman I had considered a close friend–BFF-level, in fact–in which she informed me that my behaviour was atrocious, mentioned other incidences of what she considered my atrocious behaviour, told me she’d been “walking on eggshells” out entire relationship, and that I am abusive and bully other people when I don’t get my own way. She then said she expected I’d write about her next because “that’s how you punish people who disagree with you.” And she told me not to bother emailing her back because she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.

Well, look: I AM writing about you! Good, you can feel justified now. Climb right on up there on your moral high ground.

Oh, speaking of moral high ground, she also said she wasn’t going to tweet about me or write about me on her blog. It took me a while to figure out why this was even relevant, but then I realized she meant it as a condemnation of my using my blog and Twitter to talk about my lived experience. Evidently I need to remain silent when people are assholes to me. Evidently, when I tell someone I’m having a bad day and something they said hurt my feelings, and they block me because “they can’t stand the idea that they’re causing people pain and they can’t change,” I should shut up about this already instead of using my blog to process. Or maybe I can use my blog to process, but I shouldn’t actually publish it. (If you want to read the post about this other incident, it’s here.)

Honestly, I can’t even with this email. It’s sitting in my stomach like a lump of undigested oatmeal. “Walking on eggshells,” REALLY? Am I so threatening that everyone automatically assumes a defensive stance in my presence? And if that’s so, why the FUCK did you stay friends with me? Two days ago we were sharing jokes and writing stories, and now you’ve NEVER trusted me? What about that time you were suicidal and I spent a considerable amount of time and energy listening to you, even when you attacked me and told me everything I said was rubbish because you’ve dealt with all your issues?

This really fucking hurt me. For the information of everyone, I spent the remainder of the evening crying and wishing I had a gun to put a bullet through my head because I obviously don’t deserve to live on this planet. Because maybe I AM abusive. Maybe I DO write about my life on my blog to punish people. I don’t think I do; I think I write here because I have experiences that other people might also have had, and I have the ability to write about them and the willingness to put myself out into the world. But, you know, maybe that’s a lie I tell myself to keep from acknowledging my behaviour. My husband says this is not the case, but I don’t have any way of knowing. I mean, this keeps happening to me. What am I doing to bring it on myself? My therapist says I make bad choices about the people I get into friendships with because crazy, dangerous, toxic people feel “normal” to me. But maybe it’s just that I’m the terrible person they all say I am when I decide I’ve had enough.

Where I Am Now

I don’t think I’m suicidal, but I don’t know. I don’t think I’m mentioning the fact that I might be suicidal as a blackmail tactic or an attempt to get sympathy, but I don’t know. That’s something abusive people do, and I don’t think I am one, but I don’t know. I keep replaying old tapes, like my mother saying I’m a liar, and I’m manipulative, and I pretend to be depressed to punish her. Old, old tapes that I can’t erase.

I don’t know if I can continue writing. Book six let off at a decent point to end that venture, and thinking about going on with it, continuing to make myself vulnerable through my work, hurts a lot. Part of me thinks that giving up the thing I love above all else because some assholes hurt me is letting the assholes win. That it would be just as much self-abuse as the cutting I used to do in high school, or the anorexia. Then I think releasing any more books and opening myself to possible repercussions like, “She’s an evil cunt; don’t buy her books” isn’t something I want to do. And then I wonder if my books don’t sell because everyone already thinks I’m an evil cunt. And I question everything I have ever said, every word I have ever written, because if I’m the abusive bully certain people claim, then my entire perspective is flawed. I don’t know what’s real.

I’m considering pulling out of all social media, even though that’s historically where I’ve found support. But according to some, when I get support it’s just propping up a flawed self-concept. The people who don’t think I’m evil are wrong. I shouldn’t listen to them anyway.

I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life and I’ve survived. I don’t know if I can get through this one.


I think it’s really interesting that even though a couple people chimed in on yesterday’s conversation, I’m the one that got taken to task for it, called abusive, and labeled a bully. The other people who chimed in on the conversation were MEN. Coincidence? Unlikely.



Male Privilege III: #NotAllMen Rides Again

This has not been the best of mornings. I woke up with a migraine from disturbing dreams of Merpeople and violent dismemberment, set against a dark background of Green Arrow. Turns out, in retrospect, that this was an indication of my clairvoyance working again, and my dream was prophetic in its symbolism. [Brief explanation: Green Arrow has always spoken up for social justice. Violent dismemberment indicated dissolution of what I though was a trustworthy friendship. Not sure about the Merpeople.]

As usual I started my day by grabbing some coffee and scrolling through my twitter feed. Not very far down, I found this:

jason 1

It bothered me, but I scrolled past. I didn’t immediately want to engage. I thought: “Jason’s a Good Guy. I don’t want to alienate him.”

Then I thought: “Wait a minute. If I really believe he’s a Good Guy, I’m doing him a disservice by assuming what I have to say will alienate him. And if he’ll be alienated by my response, he’s not as good a guy as I think. Plus, I need to challenge my own propensity not to engage with men on these matters because I’m afraid of the potential consequences.”

Yes, this is something I think about on a daily basis. I live a good portion of my life on the Internet. In case you missed it, the Internet is NOT a safe place. It’s especially not a safe place for women and People of Colour. So I police myself when interacting. I don’t call men out in public unless my history with them has taught me it will be safe. And even then, sometimes it doesn’t go well. Not so long ago, I called out a high school friend on making assumptions about my marriage–perfectly acceptable and innocent, right? He said something inaccurate about my personal life, and I corrected him. During the course of the correction, I did remind him that he’d only recently reconnected with me after not being part of my life for over twenty years, and so he really had no grounds for telling me what my marriage looks like. Friends should be able to say these things, right?

Well, no. He immediately unfriended and blocked me.

Anyway. I went through all these mental contortions, and then decided to get involved. I replied with this:

jason 2.1
Confession: I offered “brosplaining” as a sop in an attempt to stave off argument and insert humour.


To which he replied:

jason 2.2

Oh, brother. This was a teaching moment I didn’t want to deal with. See, at this point I already got pretty strongly that Jason had some personal investment here and he really wasn’t open to hearing any more. This turned out to be true. I wasn’t privy to this part of the conversation, but he told my husband that someone had asked him to “stop mansplaining!” Obviously he didn’t like it. Now, when someone with less privilege than I have calls me on my behavior and or assumptions, I don’t like it either. I purely hate seeing people in my Twitter feed talk about “White Feminists.” But my first impulse is NOT to complain that Not All White Feminists Are Like That So You Can’t Say That. My first impulse is to swallow, take a deep breath, and look at my attitudes and actions. And NOT SAY ANYTHING. My task when people are discussing their experience is to LISTEN. What they say might apply to me. It might not. Whether or not it does, I have no business policing their vocabulary because people with a certain kind of privilege have no business policing the vocabularies of those who don’t share that privilege.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. My husband–whom, incidentally, I trust implicitly–was sitting next to me on the couch. I asked him to please speak to Jason, because maybe he would actually listen to another man. Let me take a minute to wallow in the irony here, of disengaging in a discussion about Mansplaining and sexism because someone is Mansplaining sexism to me.

Yeah, that didn’t feel as good as I had hoped.

So, Michael got involved. And this happened.

Oh, look. "Not All Men" is rearing its head.
Oh, look. “Not All Men” is rearing its head.

And this:

Yep, it's "Mot All Men."
Yep, it’s “Not All Men.”

As Michael is relating this to me–I wasn’t following the conversation even though I was still getting tagged at this point–I’m wanting more and more to bang my head against the wall. How is the phenomenon of men at all levels of society assuming that women know less than they do about any subject under discussion, even if the woman is a recognized expert in the field, not limited to men? SURE, NOT ALL MEN do it (although I have to say I personally have never met a man who didn’t ever do it at one time or another. Even Michael has done it).

Jason and Michael go back and forth for a while. Michael is trying to explain that a man condescending to a woman because he’s a man and she’s a woman is sexist. Jason comes back with, “No, that guy’s just a jerk.” And he makes some false equivalence between the idea of Mansplaining and lumping all practitioners of Islam together with extremists.

The thing he’s not getting here, which I only just thought of, is that Mansplaining is a BEHAVIOUR, not an IDENTITY. It’s a term used to describe the behaviour of men assuming that women are less competent. Dude, if you don’t engage in that behaviour, great! If you do, you might need to look at that rather than object to terminology. I doubt it would have affected the outcome had I realised this at the time, though.

I couldn’t restrain myself. I jumped back in.

Convo JC 3

Yeah, I let myself in for that one. And so I tried to explain it, even though it was already clear by this time that he wasn’t going to give any consideration to my viewpoint, much less agree with me.

Convo JC 4.1

Here’s what I thought: “Any minute now, he’s going to cite the dictionary definition of racism.”

I said something that was perhaps unwise, but nonetheless true (I don’t have a screenshot of it because it has disappeared from my profile for reasons that will become clear. My husband provided all the screenshots I’ve been using.) I told Jason that in my opinion he was reacting to the word “Mansplaining” because, unlike the more general “sexism” or “racism,” it contains the word “MAN.” And that word requires him to examine his own behaviour as a man, instead of automatically being able to say, “Oh, that’s not about me, because I’m not sexist.” It’s pointed, and IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s uncomfortable, AND IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE.

And then I said this:

Convo JC 4.3

This was a really, really hard thing for me to do. I try whenever possible to avoid telling people they’re wrong. In fact, I don’t think I ever did it before.

Predictably, he came back with this:

Convo JC 4.2
Oh, look! Right on schedule!

Okay, fine. Rather than debate the problems with the dictionary definition, WHICH EVERYONE ON A CERTAIN SIDE OF THE ARGUMENT BRINGS UP AT SOME POINT, I decided to delegate the teachable moment to others who have written at length on the topic. I Googled “why is the dictionary definition of racism inadequate” and provided Jason with relevant links.

These relevant links. There are many more.
These relevant links. There are many more.

I went away, did some other stuff. Scrolled though Facebook, checked my email. I wanted out of this conversation. I wanted to tell Jason, “I get it. You’re not going to agree with me. But I need you to know I trust you less now than I did when I woke up this morning.” I wondered if saying that would be wise. I was afraid, so afraid I was shaking. Because I expected if I said that, if I admitted I no longer trusted this man, I would be subject to, “Geez, I was only having a discussion and now you’re judging me! How dare you judge me when I’m an ally! You’re really overreacting! Women are so emotional!” Etcetera as nauseam.

I did not expect what I found when I finally went back to Twitter, but in retrospect, I should have.

Speaks for itself.
Speaks for itself.

TL; DR: I had an argument with a guy on Twitter, whom I thought was a friend, and when I disagreed with him and cited sources to support my position, he blocked me.

I’m afraid to go back to Twitter now. At last glance, several people, both women and men, had supported me for standing my ground and said they were sorry this happened. Some others thought the discussion wasn’t a true indication of Jason’s character and that it got out of hand. I now have a gazillion notifications I’m afraid to look at. Maybe later.

My husband has this to say:

“You denied him the moral high ground, challenged his authority, and butchered his sacred cow.”

Meaning: I confronted him when he “called out” a form of “sexism” perpetuated by women on men instead of being silent or agreeing that he had a point; I told him he was wrong; and I refused to cave in when he referenced the dictionary (because, as we ALL know, the dictionary is a sacred text which NEVER CHANGES and is ALWAYS RIGHT).

Even though I’m an outspoken woman on the Internet, this is the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this. And I know it’s peanuts compared to what other women face on a daily basis (i.e., rape and death threats, in case you didn’t get that). I spent some time crying and shaking, and I’m still sick at my stomach. And the worst thing is, I am beating myself up for having the reaction I’m having. At the same time, I’m wondering about those gazillion notifications. What if Jason motivated the forces of NOTALLMEN against me, and now I will be facing rape and death threats? These are things that have happened to others. And since the morning’s exchange proved to me that this person is NOT the person I though he was, despite his amusing and apparently socially conscious tweets, I have no idea any more what he’s capable of.

This has not been a good morning.

I still don’t know what the Merpeople had to do with it.

A Subtle Form of Sexism

I’m a fan of the Green Arrow comic book from way back. So is my husband. Consequently, we’re also fans of the current television series based on it, The CW Network’s Arrow. Yeah, it took a while to get started, and yeah, there are flaws and problems with it. But overall, it’s well done and offers a fresh take on many familiar characters from the DC Comics universe. (BTW, if anyone from the network happens to be reading this, Felicity and Ollie NEED to be together! She and Ray have NO chemistry!)

Anyway. *clears throat*

In a recent episode, the action split between the goings on in Starling City and a rescue mission headed by two of the supporting characters, John “Dig” Diggle and Lyla Holland. Diggle is one of my favorite characters in the show. He’s a genuinely good guy who has grown devoted to Oliver and his cause since they first came together as a traumatized and self-absorbed rich boy-man and his implacable bodyguard. I love Dig and Lyla as a couple both because they’re an outstanding example of a mixed race relationship on a popular television show and because they operate as partners. There’s little or no power inequity between them. Both are bad ass, with Army backgrounds and secret military connections. Both care for their daughter. They have their difficulties and differences, as every couple does. But for the most part, they resolve them through communication and compromise.

And yet.

Ain't they cute?
Ain’t they cute?

In the episode in question, “Suicidal Tendencies,” John and Lyla got married (for the second time). Unfortunately for them, as they were about to depart on their honeymoon, Lyla’s boss summoned her for a covert mission leading members of the Suicide Squad into a fictional Middle Eastern country to resolve a hostage crisis. I’d like to reiterate: Lyla was the official Team Leader for this operation. Diggle, who had accompanied Lyla to ARGUS headquarters when she got the summons, decided to tag along and lend his (not inconsiderable) support. Well, to make a long story short, everything went kablooie when the hostage crisis turned out to be a con set up by the very senator the team was sent to rescue. And here’s the rub: when things blew up and the team got trapped in a hospital rigged to explode, Diggle automatically assumed command. EVEN THOUGH LYLA WAS THE OFFICIAL TEAM LEADER. He didn’t ask. He didn’t consult with her in any way. He just did it.

True partners. Except for that one time.
True partners. Except for that one time.

Now, you might offer several justifications for this. You might say since the mission turned out other than they thought, the original command structure didn’t hold. Or you might say Diggle was better suited to lead the changed operation because his experience on Team Arrow better suited him to situations that don’t go as planned and made him better able to improvise than someone with a strict military position. You might even say that Diggle is more of a major player than Lyla, so putting him in charge makes sense from a narrative standpoint.

Or you might say that Diggle–and the episode’s writers–took it for granted that when things go to hell, a man should be in control.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t notice this at the time. It wasn’t until the next morning, when my husband said, “They did it again,” that I got it, and even then, he had to explain to me what he was talking about. (Ten points to Ravenclaw!) Since then, I’ve had a hard time not thinking about it. The thing is, Diggle KNOWS Lyla is competent–MORE than competent. She’s trained to handle doubtful situations. They’ve had each other’s backs over and over again. He knows what she can do. And he didn’t ask.


I mean, one line would have done it. “Hey, this mission has gone south; maybe I should take the lead.”  That’s all he had to say. But he didn’t. Or he could have said, “Well, Lyla, you’re in charge. What do you want to do?” In which case, she might have replied with, “You’re better at improvising.” Or ANYTHING. Just acknowledge it!

It reminded me how insidious most sexism is. It goes on all the time, all around us, and we’re so inculcated in our sexist culture that we don’t notice. Sometimes I don’t notice even when it’s directed at me. It’s not until later, when I’m upset for no reason, or when I start to cry out of the blue, that I remember. Or my husband points it out, like he did the Arrow episode. Which is ironic, because I’m talking about the way our culture assumes men know better, think better, see better than women in almost every situation, and here’s a case where it’s true. My husband CAN see this shit better than I can, because it doesn’t endanger him. The microagressions of everyday sexism aren’t meant to reinforce a power structure where he’s inferior. If I had to acknowledge every single one in the moment, if every woman had to do that, I don’t know if it would be possible to go on living in this culture or on this planet. So mostly I, like many other women, don’t acknowledge the bulk of them. Not until later.

What does it look like in my life? Here’s a few examples culled from the many.

I used to be a DJ for the local community radio station. I developed an original Celtic Music show, “Whiskey in the Jar,” and both produced and hosted it for fifteen years, every Thursday night unless an illness totally incapacitated me. Sometimes I went in when I was sick, because I had a more difficult than average time persuading one of the other DJs to cover my slot. This is actually relevant. The usual excuse other DJs gave was that they weren’t familiar with the music. Which was pretty much a bullshit excuse, because any competent DJ could go in and pull music from the Celtic wall and come up with a decent two and a half hours by flinging random CDs at the players. They did it for shows in other genres, like Jazz and Bluegrass and New Age. Be that as it may, the other DJs acknowledged my expertise in the Celtic field in this weird way. They conceded that I knew what I was doing.

My show ran during the dinner hour, a shift from 6 – 9 PM. My husband was in the habit of coming to the station with me to bring me dinner and keep me company. THAT’S ALL HE DID. He’d been a DJ for a time as well, but during my show, I ran the board, I took calls, I chose the music and arranged the playlists. Yet, when we were out in public, even at some of the radio station functions, people inevitably referred to “Whiskey in the Jar” as “Your guys’s show.” They assumed my husband played more of a role than he did, sometimes to the point of engaging him in a discussion of the last show while I stood by with my jaw hanging open. I have a framed certificate on my wall that the station gave to me when I decided fifteen years was enough. It says the station proudly recognizes “Kele and Michael” for our outstanding contributions hosting “Whiskey in the Jar.” I was really glad to have my husband’s company on that journey, but I hardly consider his contribution to the show “outstanding.”

During my show’s run, the station engaged a nationally-known professional (male) photographer to shoot all the DJs for a series of photographs to be hung in the studio offices. I suggested to Michael that we pose in costume, and we had a great time. When the proofs came out, however, the photographer and I had a problem. He’d picked a particular shot as “The One” that represented the show best. I disagreed with him. We went back and forth for several emails, and finally he agreed to print and hang my choice in the show. At which he gave an interesting speech about how people need to trust an artist’s judgment and vision even if they don’t understand it. And his choice was the one that ended up in the show catalogue. Curious how that worked.

My choice.
My choice.
The artist's choice.
The artist’s choice.

Do you see the difference here? It’s not that I dislike the artist’s choice. In fact, I love it. I have a framed copy hanging in my dining room, and we gave another to Michael’s parents.  But in the photograph on the left, it’s clear that Michael is the dominant figure while I lean on him for support. He’s running the show. In the one on the right, I’m the dominant figure with Michael as a background presence. Which one better represents MY radio show? I think it’s pretty clear.

This isn’t a singular incident. Not long ago, I walked into the local print shop to get an estimate on bookmarks to use as promotional materials. I started talking to the woman behind the counter (one of the owners, someone we’ve known since we’ve lived in this town). She began showing me what they could do, how many bookmarks would fit on a page, explaining how their process worked. And then, Michael came in from parking the car. IMMEDIATELY, the printshop owner’s attention turned toward him, the man. She stopped talking to me in favor of talking to him, even though moments before she had assumed me competent to grasp her explanations. Even though I was the one who started the conversation, about materials I wanted to promote books I wrote, and my husband had simply driven the car.

Another time, shortly after I published my book of fairy tales, an acquaintance (a woman) purchased a copy from me. I asked her if she wanted me to sign it. She hesitated a minute, then said, “Can I get Michael to sign it?” Remember, I wrote every word of the book. I had arranged its publication, from the interior design to the cover art. And yet, this woman wanted my husband to autograph it. I asked her why and she said, “He’s really cute!” At the time, I laughed. The incident became a funny anecdote I won an “awful publishing stories” contest with at the next conference I attended. Looking back, though, it’s another in a long, long line of similar incidents. Times when my husband has been given credit for my successes, in which he only peripherally participated, if he participated at all.

I’m not angry at Michael for this. He does nothing to detract from me and nothing to claim the spotlight. Nothing except be a big, imposing, confident, reasonably attractive white man. Exactly the kind of man one would like to put in a position of authority, particularly as I’m extremely introverted and not at all confident in groups of people. Usually he catches the problem before I do, just as he did with that Arrow episode. If I could ask him to do one thing differently, it would be to address the situation when he sees it. Mostly he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to be rude. But at least he can see it.

Sexism isn’t always blatant. It’s not always the catcalls, the come-ons, the boss who asks the one woman in the office to pick up his dry cleaning and make his coffee, even when her qualifications are equal or better to those of the men. In fact, as damaging as those things are, they are less so than the little things that slip by us every day. The person who asks the man about his career and the woman about the pets or the kids. The tendency of certain fields to promote the work of men over that of women and People of Colour, even when the quality of the work and the subject matter is the same. It’s in the way we define normal and average to look like a white guy in a suit. And the fact is, women perpetuate it as much as men. Because we’ve learned that it’s the way things work, and because it seems rude to make a fuss. Because it’s really hard to confront nice people who honestly didn’t mean any harm, and because it’s really easy to think, “But maybe the quality of the work really IS different. Maybe men are simply better at these things.”

Like the writers of that Arrow episode, we remain unaware. And like them, we could solve many instances of it with a single line.

“Excuse me. She’s in charge.”