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Author Topic: EP462: Women of Our Occupation  (Read 12364 times)

eytanz

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #1 on: September 20, 2014, 09:05:43 PM
This one was a hard one to listen to. The brutality of war and occupation was very present in this story, and brilliantly done. I particularly liked the way that - as Alasadair (sp?) pointed out - the story drifted back and forth between allegory and straight-up narrative. It was interesting, how on the one hand I felt for the main character and the indignities and violations he and his family suffered at the hands of the Women, while at the same time I could see the broken bones of the  cruelty and rigidity of his people's culture poking up around the edges. I could root for him, despite the fairly awful things he sometimes said and thought, because he was a victim of so much, and his pain was so obvious, but it was nice and complicated.

For me, this story brought up a couple of other thoughts that my fellow Escapists might find interesting.

The first is that I enjoyed how this story talked about the real personal side of grief and pain and frustration, and how these feelings can create (or at least prepare the ground for) thoughts that we think of as bigoted. After listening to this story, I somehow found myself thinking about all the people in real world America who might, for example, say terrible things about Latinos, but do it in part because our broken economic system has trapped them in long-term unemployment. Their circumstances don't excuse their actions, but I wonder if we wouldn't find ourselves feeling sympathetic to their plight - the same way we are sympathetic to the POV character's in this story - if we could hear their world as the story they tell themselves.

Second, I have always been fascinated by the experience of people who watch the world change around them, leaving them behind. There's a certain tragedy to transformation, even when it leads to a world with more justice. That's not true in this world, where it seems like the changes are just going to bring about a different sort of brutality and oppression... but it's interesting nevertheless.

I did find one serious flaw in the story: compassion fatigue. About 15 minutes from the end of the episode - right after he was raped - I had the opportunity to sit in my car and hear out the rest of the tale, or go upstairs and have to wait until the next morning. Normally, I'd do the former, but I was just... so... sick of hearing about the endless parade of injustices and violations heaped on this poor bastard. I don't think that this is a flaw of the subject matter, but rather a flaw of pacing. When your story is this grim, you've got to either sprinkle in some points of light, or you've got to wrap it up just a little bit faster.

That's my 2¢ anyway. Maybe I've got limited compassion energy because I just finished up spending five years working in inner city schools, and my compassion muscles need a little while to recover. I still felt like the story should have been a little lighter, sprinkled with the occasional break from the grimness, or a little shorter.

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #2 on: September 21, 2014, 08:11:14 PM
As I've said before, I'm not a fan of "advocacy" stories.... stories that with no subtly bang out a clear side of a controversial social or political issue, even when it's an issue that I happen to agree with the author's point of view. It's frankly lazy, and it only rarely (I won't say never) packs the punch that's hoped for.

But, having said that, let's take the obviously complaint of "but she's just using the Women to flip the obvious brutality of male soldiers" and stick a pin in it off to the side.

For that matter, let's take the notion that she's expanding on her well-known essay and pointing out women always fighting, showing that off, and stick a pin in that too.

Cuz these aren't my real problems with this story.

My problem is: People are NEITHER dragons nor sheep. People are people, plain and simple, and once you've lost the ability to see that, you've lost me. This is one of the reasons I have no romantic notions about revolutionary movements. If you think you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, you've missed the point that *people are not eggs*.

Now, it could be that I'm exceptionally thick, and that's the author's point all along, but I just don't see it.  We are nowhere told why the Women have actually occupied this society, and there is no excuse for shooting boys in the head. But all the narrator is left is rage. Again, not real reasons or motivations other than revenge, which always becomes a circular argument.

Your choices are not simply between being sheep or dragons.

(PS: Nathan, I loved your malaprop "Zitgeist" - I'm going to define that as "the spirit of immaturity"....)



skeletondragon

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Reply #3 on: September 22, 2014, 05:49:05 PM
I was most intrigued by the teenage girls who adapted to the new order. What if the protagonist was a girl whose father ended up the same way, but her family's and her culture's tragedies were accompanied by a sudden opening of opportunities for herself? That would have been a significantly different story, but the glimpses we got of these women made me wish we got just a little more information about them...how did the customs girl react when the man who verbally harassed her got shot in the head? It could be justified as the protagonist, even after all these years of being intimidated by the Women, barely notices the lower-case women from his own society, but I think just a few more sentences here and there could have helped.

I tend to unequivocally hate women-soldiers-acting-like-men-soldiers stories, so the fact that I'm able to just feel a little thoughtful about this one says a lot about its execution.  So many power dynamics in this story, for the most part done really well. Some subverted, some not. Sex & gender - obvious. Parent-child and older-younger sibling - very subtly done. Class and colonialism in the way the Women reserve top jobs for themselves and pay occupied subjects to do menial labor. I agree with InfiniteMonkey about people not being only sheep and dragons, or even being sheep to some people and dragons to others. But when I first heard the line I thought "dragon" referred in this instance to the father's opium addiction, and more generally to inner demons, rather than external forces. In this sense I feel like "We all battle dragons" is more sympathetic (although surely some people's dragons are larger and more fearsome than others).  Then the outro made me wonder if I'd just gotten that completely wrong.



Dwango

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Reply #4 on: September 22, 2014, 07:06:01 PM
The most interesting part of this story to me is the thought of how power can so easily corrupt people, in a way average people rarely think about until confronted with it.  This extends to the ease some people take to cruelty such as those aiding the third reich or Pol Pot and the way he could get people to do horrible things.  I don't think it so unbelievable that the girls could fall so easily into the same corruption and the men could so easily fall into line when they were trying just to survive.  Such extremes to push people to do the unthinkable if they fear enough and want to make it through the night.  Of course, as the father found out, one can get broken too.  It was just such a sad piece, but it can be verified in real life by the way many people accept injustices.

I think this piece is sort of a throw back with its strong allegory and allusions.  I would compare it to 1984 in its harsh make up and dark scenes and somewhat hopeless theme.  I liked what it did in the way it shows the futility and anger the protagonist deals with, though it is in the extreme and it would be better to have some features placed on the "women".  They were so two dimensional in their lack of compassion and violent activities, but it does give them that alien quality.  It feels like a piece coming out of World War II post war period and that realism of understanding that people are capable of terrible actions.  Of course, I still prefer happy endings and the idea of hope of some sort surviving the worst of things.

Of course, it's great to hear Mighty Mur doing the live con reading.  She always has done so well at that.



matweller

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Reply #5 on: September 22, 2014, 07:37:06 PM
Of course, it's great to hear Mighty Mur doing the live con reading.  She always has done so well at that.
I didn't edit that at all, she slipped like 3 times in the whole reading. Amazing. I'm lucky if I can get through a paragraph with under 3 re-starts.



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Reply #6 on: September 23, 2014, 12:12:49 AM
I tend to unequivocally hate women-soldiers-acting-like-men-soldiers stories...

By the Throne, I'm probably going to regret asking this... but why? Personally, I always find it interesting when an author manages to invert, subvert, and otherwise screw with stuff that we take for granted. It's true that I like it best when it's done subtly, rather than just "everything you know is wrong!" - though that can be done well, see "Saving Bacon" for an example of how. It's still good when you get a sense that there are good and interesting reasons for the inversion, they just happen off screen, as it worked out in this story. And while the everything-you-know-is-wrong approach (EYKISW for short) is a bit two-dimensional, not everything in your story has to be fully fleshed out. Sometimes a backdrop is a backdrop, and that's ok.

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Father Beast

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Reply #7 on: September 23, 2014, 10:53:33 AM
I find it curious that the author who berated herself for nearly having a woman raped in another of her stories,  in the "We Have Always Fought" essay, has a boy raped in this story.



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Reply #8 on: September 23, 2014, 03:06:56 PM
Back in the days before high definition TV shows from around the world, cheap air travel, and ubiquitous "ethnic" food options in the United States, people used to use fiction as a substitute for travel.  There was a real value in fiction that could let you escape to places you would never see, smell, taste, or touch in your entire life.  Today, when Mrs. A and I can be sitting on our sofa eating Indian food while drinking Guinness and watching a documentary about North Korea on our TV, the need to read fiction to escape into an exotic world does not have the same justification.

But then there's a story like this.  I am so lucky to have lived a life of complete pampered luxury.  I've never experienced anything like being a disfavored ethnic/religious class in an occupied area.  I cannot really begin to think about how that would affect me--how it would change my worldview.  And maybe that's the kind of mental-travel that fiction can still provide.  I do not need to read a book to know what it is like to travel the world and see new sights.  But I still need fiction to help me to understand the experiences of people who suffer in ways from which I have been happily isolated.

Glad that Escape Pod ran this story.



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Reply #9 on: September 23, 2014, 03:18:46 PM
I had trouble getting into this story.  I think that one reason is that it felt more like an allegorical annex of "We Have Always Fought" than a story but without adding anything substantial to "We Have Always Fought".  I think one or the other stands can stand well on its own (the essay can at least since I heard that one first) but listening to them not too far apart from each other in time just feels like author is writing the same thing again. 

I also liked that the essay had some positives mixed in as well rather than just being endlessly bleak  as the story.



Springaldjack

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Reply #10 on: September 23, 2014, 06:55:22 PM
To me the most important character is the narrator's mother. What does the occupation do for her? Well now she still does domestic work, but instead of it being primarily for her family, she does domestic work for the people who abducted and tortured her husband. Women who joked about how if her husband was able to return to work they would have one less handy Native Servant helping them eradicate her own culture, regardless of how she feels about it.

This is also why I really don't like Alistair's framing. Revolution is not occupation, cultural change is not cultural genocide.




skeletondragon

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Reply #11 on: September 23, 2014, 08:26:45 PM
I tend to unequivocally hate women-soldiers-acting-like-men-soldiers stories...

By the Throne, I'm probably going to regret asking this... but why? Personally, I always find it interesting when an author manages to invert, subvert, and otherwise screw with stuff that we take for granted.

Because it's entirely unoriginal, and after the first two or five times it gets old fast. Plot twist: the cruel occupying soldiers are women. So? Where do you go from there? Almost invariably nowhere interesting. What's so fascinating about an alternate universe where the positions of the oppressor and oppressed are reversed? If you have to read an inversion before you realize that things like military occupation, sexism and rape are fucked up, you are lacking in empathy. If the pronouns were flipped, this story wouldn't be a nifty sci-fi thought exercise, it would be a brutal realistic fiction piece. Most of the time I would frankly rather just read that. And as Springaldjack pointed out, the story really doesn't hold up well as an allegory for either revolution or gradual cultural change.

Which is not to say that I don't think sci-fi can be used to effectively examine or metaphorically portray social change. I think The Forever War, for instance, does it very well. That novel made me feel way more sympathy towards people who felt swept away by shifts in the zeitgeist than this story did.



matweller

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Reply #12 on: September 24, 2014, 02:18:17 AM
I tend to unequivocally hate women-soldiers-acting-like-men-soldiers stories...

By the Throne, I'm probably going to regret asking this... but why? Personally, I always find it interesting when an author manages to invert, subvert, and otherwise screw with stuff that we take for granted.

Because it's entirely unoriginal, and after the first two or five times it gets old fast. Plot twist: the cruel occupying soldiers are women.
I'll have to listen again, I didn't get the feeling the first time that it was approached as a plot twist so much as just a stated fact. I mean, it's the title, not a big reveal. You're right, it's been done before, but I didn't feel hammered with it in this case. I thought it just served to show highlight how piggish that behavior is for anybody -- it's disgusting when women do it, maybe that can help us realize how numb we are when men do it and we should be just as digested but aren't. And -- to me -- that's a step back worth taking on a regular basis.

I'm not worried about changing your mind. I don't like beets and that's just a fact, not a point that can be argued until I submit. No biggie. It just strikes me as funny to hear a juxtaposition being called out as old hat because it makes me think, "then how must you feel about the paradigm?"

"Action movies with female leads are so played out."
"Totally. Let's go see The Replacements 3."



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #13 on: September 24, 2014, 05:07:36 AM
I'm with Matt.

Like I said "let's make this fantasy world the opposite of everything else!!!" is only entertaining the first couple of times... but it also isn't any more or less entertaining than "let's have this fantasy world be exactly what everyone expects, with elves and rampant sexism!!!" Both are equally bland, the latter because it slavishly adheres to tropes, the former because it merely inverts them ("a perverse servant," says the Dark Ages Mage Verbena "is a servant nonetheless"). Basic trope inversion at least has the benefit of being newer and therefore somewhat less common (and yes, it is much less common - various schemas and heuristics might leave you thinking that it's more common than bog-standard fantasy, but brains are stupid, and you would be wrong).

I also think that "mere inversion" is a weird accusation to level against this story. We don't know a lot about the Women - and that's by design. There are all sorts of awesome and weird and not-mere-inversion things that might be true. Leaving room for those possibilities isn't the same as writing them in... but let's get real. This is a short story. Expecting everything to be explicated is unrealistic.

So... I don't see it. The Women were not generic females-occupying-male-roles. They were not mere inversions. They were their own entirely new, interesting, not fully explicated but that's ok because it was a short story, thing.

Re: Springaldjack.

I think it's important to remember the perspective. For the main character, the POV character, this was certainly nothing but an invasion, an occupation, and a cultural genocide... but history is more complex than that. His granddaughter might look back and say "gee, it's a good thing that the Women invaded us fifty years ago, because otherwise I'd be married to some loser and pregnant or something." I'm not trying to pull some sort of "white man's burden" shit and say that this makes it the right or responsibility of some people to invade and forcibly change others... I'm just saying that you don't know how something is going to work out until it works out (and sometimes even then you don't know), which means that like it or not everything, no matter how brutal it is in the moment it is happening, has the possibility of turning into something else later. Even something good. Or good for some people.

The ends don't justify the means. But do the means damn the ends? That's a very complicated question.

So yes, I think that it's possible to look at a moment in history that is awful for some people and look at the ways that it is also a transformation at the same time that it is brutal.

In this case, this possibility - I was going to type "conclusion," but I'm not, because the story does a very good job of making it a possibility, not a conclusion - was actually presented to us via the girl the main character was crushing on. Some people - some of them alive right now, some of them not yet born - are going to find their opportunities in life expanded by this war. That's what sets this story in a piece of history that is interesting to look at.

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adrianh

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Reply #14 on: September 24, 2014, 10:19:55 AM
I find it curious that the author who berated herself for nearly having a woman raped in another of her stories,  in the "We Have Always Fought" essay, has a boy raped in this story.

Seems a very different context to me.

In the "We Have Always Fought" article she was berating herself for considering bad-man raping good-woman to provide an arbitrary traumatic-act for good-woman's character development. Because it's cliched trope, and one that didn't actually make sense in the society she built in the novel.

In "Women of Our Occupation" we have a story that is, from my perspective, all about power relationships and the use and abuse of power at all scales — from societal to personal. The rape is part of that story and fits in with the themes. Regardless of the sex of the people involved.

« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 07:26:57 PM by adrianh »



skeletondragon

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Reply #15 on: September 24, 2014, 05:46:58 PM
Well, as I said before, I was surprised by how much I didn't hate this story, considering how much I specifically hate the sub-genre of stories that doesn't just have women occupying traditional male roles, but gives them all the trappings of male power structures without sufficient reflection upon the way such things arise. To the extent that this story falls into that trope, I think it could be better - I wish it had more back story for the Women's culture and the reasons for their invasion, and I wish it examined more points of view in the invaded society, but I didn't think it was a bad story overall.



matweller

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Reply #16 on: September 24, 2014, 07:23:51 PM
...I wish it had more back story for the Women's culture and the reasons for their invasion, and I wish it examined more points of view in the invaded society...
That's a good thing, then. You should Tweet the author that comment and ask for follow up stories. I'm sure she'd like the feedback, you'd get your world-building, and we love when people let authors know they heard their stories on our show. We provide links to the author on our website for just that reason.

Our authors are hampered by our time/word limit, but there's nothing hindering them from making a series of stories in the same universe and submitting them all. Just look at Derego's Union Dues.



adrianh

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Reply #17 on: September 24, 2014, 07:45:51 PM
I wish it had more back story for the Women's culture and the reasons for their invasion, and I wish it examined more points of view in the invaded society, but I didn't think it was a bad story overall.

Interesting. I think having more detail would have ruined it for me. As written all I can judge the occupation on is how the actions of the various participants affected the protagonist. Who's good, bar or a little bit of both — we don't know. I like that ambiguity.



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Reply #18 on: September 24, 2014, 07:49:55 PM
I like that ambiguity.

Or do you? 

(did I mention I have a taste for bad running jokes?)



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #19 on: September 25, 2014, 12:46:40 AM
Well, as I said before, I was surprised by how much I didn't hate this story, considering how much I specifically hate the sub-genre of stories that doesn't just have women occupying traditional male roles, but gives them all the trappings of male power structures without sufficient reflection upon the way such things arise. To the extent that this story falls into that trope, I think it could be better - I wish it had more back story for the Women's culture and the reasons for their invasion, and I wish it examined more points of view in the invaded society, but I didn't think it was a bad story overall.

Ah. You see, all hierarchies are inherently evil, and therefore I don't really see it mattering that much how they arise. A matriarchy doesn't have to be characteristically "female" and more than a patriarchy is, necessarily, characteristically "male" (although it defines itself as such, it actually enforces it's power by limiting males and maleness, which it does to a greater degree than its traits flow from maleness). So, when I read a story in which a female-driven hierarchy looks just like a male driven hierarchy buy with the serial numbers filed off (and replaced with... different serial numbers? Female ones? I dunno...) I don't think "that's not realistic - the females are too male!" I just think "oh, ok, this particular evil hierarchy happens to be female led, and it happens to resemble our real-world hierarchy in X, Y, and Z ways..." While there are better examples of world-building, that just strikes at mediocre, rather than bad, frustrating, or intrusive to my enjoyment of the story.

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Springaldjack

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Reply #20 on: September 25, 2014, 01:28:30 AM

Re: Springaldjack.

I think it's important to remember the perspective. For the main character, the POV character, this was certainly nothing but an invasion, an occupation, and a cultural genocide... but history is more complex than that. His granddaughter might look back and say "gee, it's a good thing that the Women invaded us fifty years ago, because otherwise I'd be married to some loser and pregnant or something." I'm not trying to pull some sort of "white man's burden" shit and say that this makes it the right or responsibility of some people to invade and forcibly change others... I'm just saying that you don't know how something is going to work out until it works out (and sometimes even then you don't know), which means that like it or not everything, no matter how brutal it is in the moment it is happening, has the possibility of turning into something else later. Even something good. Or good for some people.

The ends don't justify the means. But do the means damn the ends? That's a very complicated question.

So yes, I think that it's possible to look at a moment in history that is awful for some people and look at the ways that it is also a transformation at the same time that it is brutal.

In this case, this possibility - I was going to type "conclusion," but I'm not, because the story does a very good job of making it a possibility, not a conclusion - was actually presented to us via the girl the main character was crushing on. Some people - some of them alive right now, some of them not yet born - are going to find their opportunities in life expanded by this war. That's what sets this story in a piece of history that is interesting to look at.

Barring a strong unreliability of the narrator that the story didn't seem to imply, this is a story of straight up colonialism. Again look at the mother. The Women are perfectly happy to exploit her as domestic work in support of the destruction of her way of life without her having a say in it.

British colonial officers in India loved to say that they were making things better for the Indian people, and ESPECIALLY the women. I don't believe that having women shoot the guns and drop the bombs changes the basic logic of colonialism.



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Reply #21 on: September 25, 2014, 04:04:38 AM
...I wish it had more back story for the Women's culture and the reasons for their invasion, and I wish it examined more points of view in the invaded society...
That's a good thing, then. You should Tweet the author that comment and ask for follow up stories. I'm sure she'd like the feedback, you'd get your world-building, and we love when people let authors know they heard their stories on our show. We provide links to the author on our website for just that reason.

Our authors are hampered by our time/word limit, but there's nothing hindering them from making a series of stories in the same universe and submitting them all. Just look at Derego's Union Dues.

Just a quick note, I always submitted with the understanding that the stories had to stand alone individually first, with ties back to the other stories, second, and any specific series arc third - if at all.

It's why I haven't submitted any others, they are all too reliant on knowledge of the plots and characters of earlier stories to be immediately accessible.

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Reply #22 on: September 26, 2014, 12:50:34 AM
Ultimately, this story gets sent to the "meh and forget about it " pile because: Nothing Happens. The occupation begins before the story does, and never changes. The POV character is just trying to survive and make his way, and that never changes. I was momentarily interested in his initial ambition to marry and assimilate the occupiers, but that was a momentary fancy which came to nothing.

He makes no life changing decisions, has no moment of realization, and the occupation just goes on and on, being pretty much like any other occupation ever: with some soldiers abusing their power, and some not. as well as the inevitable cultural leakage.

This isn't so much a story as a setting, and not a very interesting one.



TrishEM

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Reply #23 on: September 28, 2014, 09:14:34 AM
Just seeing the title of this story, I had expected it to be a story about women who all do a certain job, like herbalists or pearl divers or whatever, or maybe doing An Unsuitable Job for a Woman; it took me a few minutes to realize that it was about Women Who Are an Occupying Force. So, it started right out subverting my expectations with the title!

Women who joked about how if her husband was able to return to work they would have one less handy Native Servant helping them eradicate her own culture, regardless of how she feels about it.

I wondered for a few minutes whether the occupiers had deliberately damaged the husband to force her to continue to work, but given all the casual executions, it was probably a close call whether he got out of interrogation alive at all.

...If you have to read an inversion before you realize that things like military occupation, sexism and rape are fucked up, you are lacking in empathy.

Well, yeah. Some people ARE lacking in empathy, at least until they're forced by circumstance to consider somebody else's viewpoint. Probably most people on this forum are already empathetic on the above issues, but maybe some people who stumble across this story by accident will actually think about their assumptions for a few minutes.
At any rate, I haven't seen the issue explored in just this way before, and I think the story was worthwhile.

I do not need to read a book to know what it is like to travel the world and see new sights.  But I still need fiction to help me to understand the experiences of people who suffer in ways from which I have been happily isolated.

Absolutely; I think that's one of the best reasons for reading fiction.



adrianh

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Reply #24 on: September 28, 2014, 10:11:14 AM

...If you have to read an inversion before you realize that things like military occupation, sexism and rape are fucked up, you are lacking in empathy.

Well, yeah. Some people ARE lacking in empathy, at least until they're forced by circumstance to consider somebody else's viewpoint. Probably most people on this forum are already empathetic on the above issues, but maybe some people who stumble across this story by accident will actually think about their assumptions for a few minutes.
At any rate, I haven't seen the issue explored in just this way before, and I think the story was worthwhile.


I didn't read the inversion as a trick to encourage empathy. Almost the reverse if anything. I saw it as a way to divorce the behaviour from the standard gender roles — and focus it more on the power differential, roles and hierarchies in play. Pointing out how much "gendered" behaviour is a social construct, amongst other things.

I find it interesting that when I read this gender-reversed version of the story linked to from the author's blog (http://www.kameronhurley.com/the-women-of-our-occupation-2/) how much more personal the action felt — because, I assume, it fit in better with my cultural defaults. That made it a very different story for me.