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I sold Song of the Body Cartographer to Kenneth Yu of Philippine Genre Stories, which to me is a significant story because it represents a return to and a reclaiming of the body.

This week, I spoke with one of my nephews and he told me that my sister had printed out Decolonizing as an SF writer and was busy telling the students in her class as well as our younger cousins that this was an essay that they must read. What will they think when they read Song of the Body Cartographer?

I am thinking of how decolonizing allows us to break away from the dominant narrative wherein women's spaces and women's bodies have been subjugated and devalued.

Some things I have been thinking on as I continue to read history:

- there is a colonialist narrative that shames the body. The object of this shaming is more often than not the body of woman--specifically, the indigenous woman. As a point of illustration, one of the acts considered important by colonists coming into tribal areas was to cloth the women in "modest" apparel. Records of colonizers refer to the upper body nudity of indigenous women and call them immodest and lewd.

White missionaries coming into the mountains consider it imperative to clothe the woman's body. I find myself asking--"Why?"

In the indigenous narrative, woman's body is beauty. There is nothing lewd or immodest about the natural body and there is no reason for shame or malice. We all have bodies, we are all connected to the earth and to each other. If I look on my sister with malice, it is a malice that comes from myself and not from the earth. I am the contaminated one and must cleanse myself.

- in colonizing the body of woman, the colonizer expresses shock and disgust at the open attitude of the woman towards sex and pleasure. It is unthinkable for woman to demand pleasure from the act of sex. It is unthinkable that man should go to so much lengths as to pierce himself with a foreign object in his desire to please the woman. It is unthinkable and unacceptable that the woman should demand or expect equal pleasure. This behaviour of woman is considered lewd, unnatural and of the devil.

To what extent has this damaged the way we look at sex? Some of us can't even speak the word without being embarassed. There is a saying: to the pure, all things are pure. I believe that sex is a pure thing. It is meant for pleasure and enjoyment--it's not just for making babies and ensuring the next generation. Where does the stigma come from? ( I have my thoughts on this as well, but I won't post them just yet.)

- The indigenous woman's narrative is one wherein the circle of women, the connection to other women is essential. Woman's mind is directed towards community, towards communion with sisters, brothers, family, the earth and the universe. Woman's influence is extensive and woman holds a position of power whether it is in the household or in the community.

-While there is no explicit mention of gendering, I get the impression that gender and sexuality are fluid descriptors. For instance, I read of males who adapt women's apparel and who act out in a feminine way. There is no stigma to these actions and it is not treated as deviant. In fact, the men who do these are men who want to tap into the source of power.

What does nature tell us about gender and sexuality? I think of the Wrasse fish and how it is the female Wrasse who is capable of changing genders when there is a shortage of males. Lots of food for thought there.

I find it interesting that in a lot of published sf/f males are invested with powers to commune with the dead/speak with the spirits/perform magic. I find it interesting because in the indigenous tradition, these are functions that are given to women. So...I'm just saying...maybe we have to think about why we as women choose to put male characters in central roles of power in the narratives that we write.

I want to say that there is beauty in this narrative of women. That there is beauty in human relationships and that it is natural for women to be strong and weak and to be intuitive as well as logical. And that even in science, not everything is explainable.

There's still a lot more that I want to write about and a lot more that I want to post, but these are the things my mind has
been dwelling on the past few days and I thought I'd just get them down and see what others think about them.


May. 22nd, 2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
Yay on the story sale: that is wonderful.
Christianity has a lot to answer for and I apologise profusely for my miserable rotten culture.
A close friend finds it almost impossible to write women as strong: her life experience has made her feel that women will always be brought down or undermined, and she can't identify with as a result. I find this sad and strange and comprehensible all together. I used to write central women until, in my 20s, it was bullied out of me by my student writers' group and their cries of 'Mary Sue!' at any woman not depicted as a doormat or a prize. I'm slowly finding my way back to women as real heroines. But in Living With Ghosts, I wrote a man who sees and communicates with the dead. Why I did that... I'm not sure. Part of it was down to my perpetual quest to write Aramis, which gave rise to the priest part of Gracielis. Part of it was down to the insistence by another character, who I'd killed off in an earlier (unsold) book, to reappear as a ghost. Part of it was down to how I feel about the past, about influences and pressures and hauntings-by-habit. I don't think I ever thought of making Gracielis female, and, thinking about it now, I find I think that the character would feel more of a cliche that way: I hate to write women who wail and whimper and whine, all of which he is very prone to. And part of me thinks a women with that power would, in that culture, handle it better because of how its effects play into the roles women play.
May. 27th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
First of all, I loved Living with Ghosts. It's so interesting to read about how you came to write Gracielis the way he is.

Gah. And how terrible that your writer's group wanted women to be the doormat or the prize. *headdesk* I remember turning my back on reading romance novels when I was in highschool, simply because I couldn't comprehend why these women would fall in love with these supposed strong, silent types who were arrogant, disrespectful of them, and whom I suspect would (if we could see beyond the happy ending) turn out to be abusive. I can't stand the doormat woman...and the prize woman...aarrrgggh!

I thought a lot after reading your response and your apology. I think that history teaches us a lot of things and while it's important to understand the role the colonizers played in the suppression and erasure of culture, it's also important for me to understand that these are actions of the past. I'm saying it badly. But to my mind, decolonization means accepting and coming to terms with the past and reaching a place of understanding and balance where we can move past the anger and reach a point of dialogue and sharing.

I'm going back to the teachings of the Babaylan which emphasize our connectedness to each other and how the wounding of one part wounds the other and the more I reflect on it, the more I see how the wounds are not restricted to the colonized. It's like looking at the circle of violence and understanding that the perpetrator is also in need of help and healing so he can leave that damaged self behind and reach completion. (maybe not a good allegory, but it's kind of like how my brain looks at it.) I wish I had a better way of saying it. *sigh*
May. 27th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
I think you're rather amazing, in how thoughtfully you approach the world and its most difficult issues. You are, a I think, kinder to the colonisers than we deserve.
And I'm honoured that you liked my book.

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