February 18th, 2011

Living With Ghosts

Picocon tomorrow

Well, it's less than 24 hours till Picocon and I am somewhere between anxious and apprehensive, en route to stage fright about it, though I'm looking forward very much to all the bits which don't involve me being a writer in public. I have notes on things to talk about, and a story to read, and a cold.
I'm hoping not to share the latter with others. It's a nuisance, but it happens, and I have decongestants and zinc and so forth. And, y'know, it won't be the first time I've had to stand up and present something with a cold. Though it's easier when the thing I'm presenting is the succession to Rhodri Mawr, or the career of Earl AElfgar of Mercia or anything normal and familiar.
And there will be a number of people I like very much attending and that will be good, too.
I'd take Ish -- he makes an excellent icebreaker and he likes travelling -- but he can't be trusted not to spray something he shouldn't (chairs, tables, carpets, other guests) and Imperial College very probably have rules about cats on the premises. Mooncat wouldn't enjoy it. And take it from me, Horus is *not* going. He is very poor company when he's nervous. Also very smelly company. And noisy. (Although now I come to think of it, he would drown me out quite nicely.)
The marquis is going, of course. He's much better at the 'author in public' thing than I am.
Is it too late to claim I'm really just another of desperance's identities? Yes, I thought so.

Skirt of the day: lilac rayon, under my black Gudrun Sjoden Christmas dress.

Howard isn't funny: a rant.

So, the marquis and I have finally got around to watching The Big Bang Theory. (Yes, I know. But we have a Hong Kong film mountain to watch, you know.) On the whole, we like it. It's reasonably sharp, most of the time, and it's funny and it's pretty kind to the tribe of the fan. And on the whole, the characters are believable and appealing and engaging. I buy that Penny would go for Leonard: he's a nice guy. I get why everyone puts up with Sheldon, despite, well, Sheldon. And Raj is adorable.
But then there's Howard. Howard isn't funny. Not to me. I've met Howard too often, and, like Penny, I don't like him close to me one bit. Howard makes my skin crawl. I've been on the receiving end of that and it's vile.
It's a fine piece of writing by the script team and a wonderful piece of acting by Simon Helberg. I believe in Howard 100%. Like I said, I've met him.
The writers get that he's creepy. I get that. His friends get it, too. And yet, and yet...
There's an episode in season two -- no. 12, 'The Killer Robot Instability' -- that crystallised for me how and why I'm uncomfortable with the character. Collapse )
In the extras on the dvd for that season, the writers talk about that episode, and how important it is, because we get to see that Howard is vulnerable, that he has feelings. In principle, I have no problem with that. I understand. I know that the creepy behaviour is a cover for deep insecurity and loneliness and anxiety. I really do understand all that. I even sympathise.
The thing is, this isn't news. I don't need to see the softer side of Howard. I knew it was there already and so, I'm willing to bet, did the majority of other women out there, especially women in fandom. Because we have all -- or almost all -- been on the receiving end of that desperate persistent creepy harassment. We have all snapped. We have all been told off, because Howard has feelings, you know, you mean girl. All the writers of that episode have done is reaffirm a daily fact of female life and female socialisation. It's our job to keep the menfolk happy by tending to their feelings. It's our job not to hurt them. It's our job to put up with all kinds of behaviour, because they only do it because they're sad/lonely/misunderstood. Penny doesn't need to learn about Howard's feelings, whatever the writers think. She knows. Of course she knows. She was brought up to know. But the writers -- who are male, and who on the whole do a fine job with the show -- have let Penny and the female audience down badly here. Because this episode is back-to-front. It's not Penny who needs to learn, it's Howard and his friends.
Howard manifests a common belief amongst some men -- that they are somehow owed access to women, that they have a right to it and that they can express this by pestering and harassing and bullying until some woman some day just has enough and gives in. It's clear that some people find watching this behaviour in a sitcom funny. I don't. It makes me cringe. When Penny finally snapped, I cheered, because I hoped that the writers were going to come through for me, and have Howard learn that women are people, not objects. I wanted him to look at himself and really think about it -- and apologise to Penny. And I wanted his friends (well, Leonard and Raj, anyway, Sheldon doesn't do people) to back her up in discouraging his standard behaviour. But the episode let me down, because it was all about man-angst.
It's not just that I'm mean and man-hating. I really do feel sorry for Howard in a lot of ways. But I'm not responsible for him and men like him. And I'm tired of living in a world in which I and other women have to be. I'm tired of having to endure harassment because I might hurt a man's feelings if I object. And I'm tired of the media reinforcing that attitude.
There's been an ongoing debate in UK fandom over sexual harassment and one of the issues that has come up a number of times is the perceived unwillingness of some parts of male fandom to police itself. This episode of TBBT is one of the best examples I can think of of the ways in which men can collude -- even unwittingly -- in maintaining the status quo of harassment. No-one stands up to Howard and says, 'She was right, and you need to apologise and stop doing it.' Oh, they sigh and roll their eyes at how he acts, but they don't intervene, they don't try and stop it, they don't police it in any way. They think, 'Oh, that's just Howard' and don't go beyond that. In s.2, ep.12, they go so far as to think 'We need him happy: make her say sorry,' which is just plain wrong. And it could have been a great episode, it could have been a genuinely important episode, because it could have reinforced something else, which is that men can support women against harassment and that harassers can start to learn.