At a time when both feminism and geek culture are pretty large topics of conversation in the mainstream, with feminist essay collections and assorted genre movies, TV shows, and books getting tons of attention, the arrival of Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution seems natural. From chainmail bikinis to GamerGate and whiny puppies, it’s never been super easy to be a female fan or creator of sci-fi and fantasy stuff. Hurley has been at it a while, and she has plenty to say about all of it, which is good for those of us who want a better world — a thoughtful, messy, diverse, and nerdy world with stories by and for everyone.
The majority of the essays here have been published before, which can get iffy. I’ve read collections that feel a bit disjointed and overly repetitive and even reductive due to this, but that’s not the case with Hurley’s blunt book. Part manifesto, part guidebook for creating a better, more equal world in sci-fi / fantasy and beyond, Revolution is divided into four sections: Level Up, Geek, Let’s Get Personal, & Revolution. Within this structure, Hurley begins with pieces about improving one’s writing and persisting in a world that wants to reject you, moves to critiques of existing media, her personal stories of tragedy, persistence, and not shutting up, to the final section which functions as a call to arms against outdated and illogical systems in place in publishing, online, and society at large.
If you’ve encountered Hurley’s nonfiction or even her Twitter page, the first thing you’ll notice is she’s completely honest, whether she’s talking about sexism, emotions, plotlines, or finances. She doesn’t pull punches, she simply presents her world as she sees it, as a way to invite people to understand how things really work. At the end of this book, she calls herself a grim optimist, which seems dead-on (and is probably why I find her easy to identify with). As for life experience to bring to the table, Hurley’s got plenty. She’s an award-winning fiction writer with pretty solid sales over many years now, but she still has to have a day job to pay the bills. She’s a smart, educated woman, who’s well-travelled and has lived and studied abroad, had an abusive boyfriend, a bad break-up with a girlfriend, almost died and went into tons of debt due to chronic illness; she’s aware of the privilege she has and of the extra work she has to do as a woman just to be seen as good enough, and the extra work she has to put in on top of that because she doesn’t fit the mold of society’s current beauty standards.
The book interrogates the defaults and categories society has set up — there are writers and women writers, fighters and female fighters, people and lady people — and asks readers to think about why that is, what it means, and how to change it. Why is the first image that pops into your head when someone says “hero” a muscular white dude? Why is the image of “nerd” or “geek” a white dude (probably with glasses)? Why the fuck is the solution to danger or threats against women for the women to stay home and stay quiet? What happens when women do just that? She takes on threats and slights in real life and the joys of being on the internet while female or not white or not heterosexual or generally not a straight white man. She gets why dudes and geek-dudes are upset, and offers them ways to understand this scary new world where they aren’t the majority and people will stand up for themselves. Change is always going to be hard somehow.
The book ends with the essay that inspired it (and won a Hugo award), “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the “Women, Cattle, and Slaves” Narrative.” In it, she discusses the many ways and places throughout history women have done everything men have and how over time, our culture has simply erased them. By not writing and talking about female soldiers, revolutionaries, doctors and anything else you can think of, society has let them be forgotten, unseen, unnoticed, because they were women and therefore didn’t fit the desired narrative. It’s a challenge to writers and readers, too, not to be lazy in approaching stories. Take control of your narratives! Tell your stories and understand they aren’t just yours. Hurley leads by example in her own fiction, but with this book as well. She’s telling us her stories, but showing us how they are filled with connections to other humans, larger issues, and fit into many spaces. She’s telling us her stories to make us mad, to make us think, and to make us get up, shout, and join the fray.