A couple of days ago, I wrote a post welcoming critique of Guardian of the Dead on social justice terms.
At feminist pop culture critique site Hathor, questions were raised about whether I had actually read and responded to existing critiques of aspects of my work, or if I was indulging in the white, straight, non-marginalised-for-being-fat, privileged lady discourse of “educate me in my own space! I can’t be bothered seeking out what you have to say in yours.” Some discussion ensued, and then the original poster asked if I would make a response, as she was interested in the thought process of white allies trying to do a thing.
So here we are!
Yes, I actively seek out critical responses to my work. I am aware of three extant public critiques of Guardian of the Dead on social justice grounds. I responded and apologised to the writers of two of them – one publicly, as she was a close friend of a close friend and there was substantial commentary to which I also wanted to respond, and one privately, as we are only acquainted vaguely through others and there wasn’t much in the way of public comment.
The third I judged, with consultation with other allies, as being an outpouring of pain to which my apology might only add further grief, so I kept my mouth shut and my fingers still.
I will admit that this was hard, because apologies make me feel better about inflicting pain on others through my work. But it is not about me. The work and the pain are still there, and if an apology is not going to address that, then it is worthless to the affected party. So the best I can do in that situation is a private vow to do better next time.
I then posted asking for further critique, and not because I am not willing to read it in other spaces. I asked so that if there were other critiques by readers who did not have blogs of their own, or who had thoughts they had not yet voiced, or were reluctant to critique in case the author showed up and acted like a jerk, they would have a space to make them with some reassurance that I welcomed them.
I tried to make the space for this critique as safe as possible, aware all the time that it was my space, and thus possibly intimidating. I tried to lay out clear guidelines:
1) No one would see the comments except me (to prevent possible defenders of my honour leaping in, or potential critiques being isolated in a number of comments by people wanting to praise me for making the post in the first place)
2) No response by me would be made unless requested (so that if people didn’t want to engage past that first point they could know I wouldn’t press engagement)
and 3) If a response was requested, it would be made via email, after consideration (to ensure privacy for their part, and to prevent kneejerk reactionism on mine)
I possibly should have included all of the above in my original post, and I apologise for the potential confusion. I didn’t want to make the post unwieldy or overly wordy (like, um, this one), and I was trying pretty hard not to ask for cookies. I’m aware that “Look! I did talk to people! Isn’t that great of me?” can give that impression.
I sometimes stumble in the execution of ally behaviour. My dedication to its principles is sincere, but that of course is irrelevant when I do stumble. Here are posts by me on cultural consultancy and the original Australian cover, which may provide further context on me-as-ally.
Okay, one further note.
You will have noted that I have not linked to any of these public critiques I mentioned, nor described them in sufficient detail that they may be identified without links, and neither did I do so in my original post.
That is because I have fans.
I like my fans! They make it possible for me to continue writing. But I do not know all of them, and I cannot guarantee that they will respect the space of others. Moreover, since all three critiques were things that fans have specifically praised me for, I really did not want to highlight critique on those points – critique, by the way, that I think entirely valid – and then have people rushing in to defend me and my work. That leads to stuff I think we have all seen before; derailment, personal attacks, but-I-liked-it-therefore-your-take-is-invalid, the argument towards intention rather than effect, etc, etc. Those things are not cool. I did not want to encourage them, even slantwise.
I guess my point is that I think an important part of being an ally is being aware of context. A private discussion with my mates where I point them to a critique and say “what do you think? I’m thinking of this response; do you think that would hurt or help?” is not the same context as me making a public post wondering the same thing where anyone can read it and follow the link, and I think it would be disingenuous to pretend so.
THAT SAID. Here is one of the critiques, on descriptions of Ellie as a fat character, by Marianne Kirby of the Rotund, with my reply. Marianne is a noted fat acceptance activist, author, blogger, and all around awesome lady, and I value her response to my work. I am linking it here not just because it is relevant to the discussion at hand, but because I think it is a fantastic piece of progressive critique of a cultural product. Marianne evaluates a personal response, links it to wider politics, and considers the possible responses of other readers without either devaluing her own reaction or hinting that alternative readings would be Wrong. It is super great.
Marianne gave permission for me to link her post here. She notes that she has a spam filter and is not afraid to use it. I hope and beg y’all that she will not have to. Please, please, please don’t go to her space and employ any of the myriad tactics that impede progressive voices.
I am allowing public comments on this post, but I am screening them.