Book Review: The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
In the first section of essays, I did not entirely like Kameron Hurley. But as her writing built momentum in this collection, so did my regard for her viewpoint.
Part One: Level Up
Her first essay "Persistence, and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer" struck me as incredibly honest. Persistence is her measure of success. Not money. Not numbers of book sold. Not fame. Persistence.
She very much internalizes this truth, which explains how she can come back to the keyboard even after tumultuous relationships, poverty, chronic illness, and years of rejection and publishing problems.
Her next essay "I'll Make the Pancakes: On Opting In — And Out — Of the Writing Game" is short, but her message appeals to me. I could completely identify with her penchant for wanting to play Indy as a kid. Not Willie.
She describes attending a baby shower where one of the guests assumes that since she introduces herself as a writer, she must be a children's writer. Ugh. I know the feeling. I try to avoid telling people I meet that I'm a teacher. So many gender stereotypes associated with my "girl job"!
Hurley even endeared me with her calling out the prattling culture of "lean in" that's been sold to women. While I have not read Sheryl Sandburg's book, I've read enough criticism of her out-of-touch elitism to make me cringe and appreciate Hurley's point of view.
The third essay "What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me About the Value of Failure" is where Hurley starts to lose me. While she praises some truly positive examples of advertising doing good by convincing people to wear seat belts and stop drinking and driving, I can't help but feel that these examples are the exception and not the rule.
Hurley works in advertising, possibly one of the fields I loathe the most. But she likes analyzing the data from various campaigns and tweaking her writing to see how to elicit the desired response. My thinking? "So you like the Jedi Mind Trick, do you?" Meh. I'm not impressed by your cunning use of words to manipulate others.
And my meh was further emblazoned after reading the last two essays in this section. In "Taking Responsibility for Writing Problematic Stories", Hurley advocates that writers need to consider what kind of world they're willing to build. Will you, as a writer, sleep well if you're creating characters that reinforce negative stereotypes?
Interesting point. But then she follows up this essay with "Unpacking the 'Real Writers Have Talent' Myth" and my meh flew into full on vexed. She lists the career options she felt she could manage as she pursued her writing career. Teaching. Waiting tables. Doing administrative work. Or advertising.
The most lucrative option is advertising and she writes, "It turns out that selling stuff with words is actually a skill our nutty consumerist culture really, really values."
And my stomach turns even reading these words again. She wants writers to take responsibility for the worlds they create as an author, but she uses words to sell lots of crap to people just because she wants a job that pays better?
Build a fantasy world with strong morals and ethics that you believe in, but dupe real people into buying what they don't need? She wants a certain paycheck so she's willing to contribute to the slimy industry of advertising which directly affects our real world?
And there's one of my pet peeves. People who spout moral indignity with the conviction of Atticus Finch, but are not willing to back up their beliefs with actions. Is Hurley another example?
Part Two: Geek
After finishing the first section of this book, I put it down for a bit. I really wanted to like these essays and that last one definitely had me irritated.
I made the right decision because from Part Two onward, her perspective on various issues made much better impressions. In this section, Hurley analyzes a variety of pop culture entertainment like True Detective and Mad Max, and the role of women in various stories.
In her essay about Mad Max, she writes, "There's a lot of whining about 'message fiction' these days, which is bizarre because every story is a 'message' story or it wouldn't be a story. Asking for 'stories without messages' makes me think this is code for a steady diet of inane reality TV shows. Reality TV does actually have a message, folks. That message is selling and reinforcing capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo."
When I read these words, I thought about the role Hurley plays in reinforcing capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo as someone who writes copy that promotes capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo. I was a little bothered. How dedicated is she to her message about good storytelling?
In another essay on the hero archetype, she writes, "We build our heroes, too often, on terrible things done to women, instead of creating, simply, heroes who do things, who persevere in the face of overwhelming odds because it's the right thing to do."
Yes! I love this idea, so how does she go to work everyday? At this point in my reading process, I began wondering more about her personal life and I wanted details about the dramatic relationships and health crises that she hinted at in her opening section.
Part Three: Let's Get Personal
And here is where I learned many details about her struggles with type 1 diabetes and keeping health insurance. She's candid about her weight and self-image. She offers a stark look at times of poverty she endured while also acknowledging that as a white woman she did have more privilege than many others.
One of my favorite essays is the powerful piece: "Let It Go: On Responding (Or Not) to Online Criticism". She writes, "The game of online hate is rigged against you as a woman and as a creator." Women may ignore or mute the harassers and attempt to allow their words to speak for them.
But the strongest piece of advice Hurley offered is, "Your haters are not here for a conversation. They are here to keep you from doing your work." Don't let them win. Keep speaking out.
And within "When the Rebel Becomes Queen: Changing Broken Systems from the Inside" she shares how much she struggles with the question of how best to affect change in a corrupt system. Is she helping to promote change in her storytelling craft or has she become part of the problem? I wonder how much of that question relates to her day job that keeps her insured. And on that note, I can completely relate. By being a teacher in a broken public education system am I actually helping society or just helping to delay the inevitable collapse of the system?
Within this section, Hurley offers a glimpse into her life that allows me to understand why having a better paycheck with reliable health insurance would be so critical to her. And I am more convinced that the conviction of her words is true. She's fighting the good fight.
Part Four: Revolution
In these last essays, Hurley covers her point of view on the challenges of writing science-fiction and fantasy as a woman, Gamergate, the hijacking of the Hugo Awards in 2015, and much more. These essays were, by far, my favorites.
She asks some pointed questions.
Like why is it political for a female author to ask to be included within the genre, but somehow her invisibility up to then was not political?
Or regarding Gamergate: What do men do to make this world a better place?
Normally, I don't have a preference for how I read a book, but for this section in particular I was glad I had the e-book. Throughout these essays, Hurley cites various sources in her notes. With the e-book, the majority of the notes are hyperlinks to tweets, blog posts, and online articles that help shape background for various ridiculous events occurring in the science-fiction and fantasy genre for the past few years.
At the very least, if you're someone who wants to know what you may have missed in regards to the Sad Puppies or the "Ethics in Gaming" sham, then these essays offer her perspective and the context of other voices as well.
I'm certainly glad I read this collection of essays. Hurley definitely had me thinking about what science-fiction and fantasy I consume.
On a side note, she is liberal with her cursing. If swear words offend you, then her writing is not for you.