SOMETIMES THE SOAPBOX IS NOT YOURS
AMBER LOVE 29-JUNE-2015 Someone in the empire of best selling author E.L. JAMES of the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY trilogy and latest GREY novel, thought it was a great idea to connect James with fans on Twitter under the hashtag #AskELJames. And some people got offended at women using this hashtag to ask about violence against women. It’s true – sometimes the soapbox is not YOURS. I have learned to sit back and listen to people of color, the people in the LGBTQIAA community that I don’t know much about, and even other marginalized groups like Native Americans. Exploring other reaches of Twitter and Flipboard have done wonders for me.
Plenty of sites from Entertainment Weekly to The Mary Sue have already discussed what a failure the hashtag was. What I want to – need to – point out is where there were problems no one in her empire wants addressed and then other well known authors leaping to her defense. Of course, I’m talking about the rape culture, domestic violence, and other abusive problems in her work. There were failures among people not even talking about the content.
FIRST ISSUE: THE AUTHOR INVITED THIS DIALOG
As I’ve said with comics, one does not need to have read the entirety of 50SoG. You don’t even need to read one complete chapter. Why? Because this is a franchise in which there have been countless critical examinations complete with highlighted excerpts pointing out the problems. I’m not even talking about the hilarious blog posts that showcase James’ ineloquent grammar and grotesque metaphors about sex. Women were addressing questions as properly requested by the author using the hashtag to ask about her confused plots of domestic violence and romance.
First of all, there’s no way that James was at the wheel. You know damn well that they were expecting a high volume of questions and comments and would have had people read the hashtag, cherry pick what to ask her with dictated answers to post. So in all the hands that could have been on the side of the @E_L_James’ keyboard, you could guess: an agent, a publicist, an intern or two, a personal assistant, the author herself and who knows, maybe even her husband helping out here. It was a two-hour feed with very little answers. None of the questions I could find about abuse, BDSM, domestic violence, etc. were ever answered. Only cute fluffy questions about what the author likes to do, her favorite characters, what kind of music she likes, etc. Trivial stuff. I had counted 28 questions using Chrome; after that it bounced to an earlier date. Another person on Twitter counted as many as 80 answers given and our dialog about that is in the Storify which is so long, you’ll probably have to click “next page.”
That’s one problem – people leapt to the defense of an author skilled at interviews after years of them when she invited questions from the public.
SECOND ISSUE: THE AUTHOR DOESN’T NEED POPULAR MALE AUTHORS TO “SAVE” HER
The other problem was that pop culture and literary fans were speaking out and some people didn’t like that they dared to have a voice. I absolutely don’t want it to look like I’m throwing anyone under the bus so in my Storify, I’ve only included the tweets that I feel were key to understanding the dialog we were trying to have.
Certain best selling authors felt that James was being treated unfairly. There was, according to The Mary Sue, a group that asked people to engage in a targeted “attack” using the #AskELJames tag. None that I saw asked, requested, or ordered followers to issue any kind of threat to James and I have to say, unlike when women talk about comics, I didn’t see any rape/death threats against the author or her loved ones. But I dare you to say you don’t like a comic book cover’s depiction of women. Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back.
What began to happen was that authors with power of privilege (best seller, great sales, popular with fans, guest lecturer status) said people were misbehaving. It very much came across as an edict by every generic successful white man in entertainment mansplaining: WON’T YOU THINK OF THE BILLIONAIRE AND HER FEELINGS?
I’m paraphrasing from how I interpreted all this. One thing though – I was not alone. And that’s when the discussion between @CertainShadesL, @Gwenda Bond and I began. Basically, we agreed on a lot: that no one should be calling James demeaning names or mocking her as a person. Primarily, we were subtweeting about author Chuck Wendig, who has been a guest on my podcast Vodka O’Clock and is generally a reasonable, decent guy. He later issued a mea culpa at TerribleMinds.com. But Wendig was not a solo ally interfering. As always, he has backup. [EDIT: To clarify, Wendig was one of the powerful voices saying people shouldn’t be using the hashtag to say harsh things about the books and the author’s egregious misunderstandings of romance.]
Where things diverged was on this issue of the right of the public to use the hashtag James created/agreed to, to ask her legitimate questions that she was failing to answer. I’ve seen James interviewed on TV including Good Morning, America. She unequivocally denied that her stories showed domestic violence and abuse or misunderstandings of the Dom/sub relationship. Since GREY came out only a few days ago, it seems as if James still has not learned any lessons on these subjects over the years when she has had a lot of opportunity to do so. Plenty of people are posting excerpts. You really don’t need to read that book either. From what I’ve seen, it managed to be worse than the original.
Personal attacks on the author’s looks, her weight, her ethnicity, or any of the other zillion things people like to use as weapons of hate, had no place in our conversation. When I popped over to the hashtag, maybe I was lucky. I didn’t see personal attacks, but knowing what life on the internet is like, I’m sure it happened.
So here’s the problem with policing women in the hashtag: Famous authors with privilege got to use their social media to silence all of us who are legitimately curious about James’ evolution as a person and creator who claims to have knowledge of these areas she includes in her stories! They may have been trying to point out that “HEY THERE ARE SHITTY PEOPLE ON TWITTER!“, but that’s not what happened. This intervention discredits people who are trying really hard to have intelligent discussions.
I’m usually all for the “white knights” or feminist allies who try to defend women. In this case, since James is a woman, they got on their horses and wielded their swords and thought they were doing justice for the cause against patriarchy. BUT they weren’t really. They were talking over the many women who were trying to talk to one woman.
There are studies on this! Just Google “men talking over women” and you’ll see for yourself. Men have a fear of letting women, especially women of color and less privilege, ever have the stage, microphone, social platform, or goddamn soapbox at a rail stop.
Sometimes, it is not YOUR time to speak. Don’t you remember when you had to raise your hand in class? Social media seems to have erased all the need for one voice at a time speaking, even when the voice is a collection of people pointing out something that’s upsetting, hurtful, misogynistic, racist, or just plain evil. It’s your feed. You don’t have to raise your hand and wait to speak, but maybe you should give it a try sometime.