Why My Magicians Piece for The Mary Sue Was All Wrong

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I try not to wave the big pink flag of my gender around here too often, for the simple and unfortunate reason that it often gets me taken less seriously. You would think that a blog called Tea Leaves and Dog Ears would skew female in people’s minds (doubly so if they actually checked my About Me page), but somehow unless I actually open with, “As a woman…” people default male.

Which… I’m fine with. Sort of. I would rather have people both assume I’m a woman and take all of my arguments at face value, but for the moment that seems to be an impossibility. So if there’s a choice, I suppose I’d rather be taken seriously by randoms on the internet when I want to yell about TV shows and books (remember when I wrote about books?) than be dismissed as an idiot who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Why am I yelling about lady stuff today? Well, if you don’t breathlessly keep abreast with my happenings on other sites, I wrote a piece for The Mary Sue last week about Lev Grossman’s The Magicians being turned into a TV show by the SyFy network. And from the blog’s title, it seems that people could tell that the site was written by ladies, and therefore I got the fantastic experience of being treated like a lady.

What does that mean exactly? Well first off, you guys should know that I’m basically talking out of my ass. I didn’t even read the books! I chose to write a 1000-word article about a topic I knew nothing about because the internet is absolutely on fire with the news of The Magicians TV show and I was just cashing in on that pop culture mega-wave.

What a silly duck I am.

Again, this is why I really try not to advertise my gender on here. Because I know that someone will come in and try to argue something like this: “Oh, come on. That’s hardly some terrible ad hominem attack, and nothing in that argument is about you being a woman.”

That’s the thing — I don’t think that the people who accused me of “not even reading the books” thought that they were dismissing my argument because I’m a woman. In some ways, it’s something more insidious than that. Because otherwise, the only other possible conclusion is that someone genuinely believes that if two people have differing opinions, one of those people must be lying.

I don’t think I need to sit here and give a primer on interpretation. So I won’t. I will just trust that the above concept does strike people as inherently silly. And the frustrating thing is that what they were arguing that I had “got all wrong” wasn’t wildly different than their own interpretation.

So if it wasn’t intentional sexism, what was it? Frankly, I think it’s subconscious. If you spend enough time in an environment that portrays men as actors and women as objects, it makes it easier to dismiss something that a mere object says. I know I’m getting heavy here, and I definitely know that this loose and quick definition is getting a scowl from people on both sides of this argument, but let’s just go with that for now as we delve further into what I’m talking about.

If you don’t want to read the piece, I can give you a quick summary of what I said: The Magicians is fantasy wish fulfillment, in some ways, for people who have always wanted to inhabit the fantasy stories that they read as kids. It can’t be described as just Harry Potter/Narnia for adults, because it’s darker than that. Grossman complicates that fantasy with the classic “be careful what you wish for” twist, saying that reality would never be as squeaky-clean wonderful as you’d hope.

The evidence for how I totally hadn’t read the books? Here you go:

Considering how much The Magicians emphasizes the downsides of magic and that fantasy rarely lives up to expectations, accusing the book of just being “fanfiction” seems like an odd choice of words. Fillory and Breakbills are such dark corruptions of what they are inspired from that it almost feels like you need a word that means the opposite while still retaining respect for the source material.

Not only did I not say that it was just fanfiction, I genuinely argued exactly what this commenter is saying that I should’ve argued. How’s that for not even reading the source material?

The author of the article says it’s fanfiction because Fillory is so close to Narnia, and Brakebills is like Hogwarts. Really, Grossman creates a different world, he uses Fillory in place of Narnia because he didn’t want to use a real book. I think that’s obvious – also, he probably would have gotten a lot of shit for actually using Narnia. The definition of fanfiction is not borrowing from other worlds, it’s taking your characters and putting them into an already existing world without changing any of that world.

Again, I absolutely didn’t say that. I qualified my “fanfiction” comment by saying that Grossman had used a more complicated version of fanfiction. Plus, again, I definitely addressed the idea of “borrowing” rather than adapting completely.

I’m in complete agreement, the writer never read the books. I’m going to assume she read a few book reviews and maybe even a summary. The themes of the books directly contradict what she says, and they are very blatant. Even if you hated the books, disagreed with what they said, thought they were sexist, etc, if you read them you couldn’t deny that they are very critical of classical fantasy, escapism, and fandom.

Did I mention sexism or gender politics in my piece? Nope.

The author of the article clearly missed the entire point of Grossman’s book, if they read it at all.

And

I’ll agree with the OP that I really doubt that this person read the books, I’m much more inclined to believe that she read a few summaries and reviews and just went with what was written. Otherwise, I’d have to say that she’s just really dumb, and I don’t want to say that. The themes of The Magicians are very blatant, even if you disagreed with what the book is saying or its portrayal of those themes you can’t overlook them. The Magicians doesn’t exactly satirize Narnia and Hogwarts, but it is a very critical look at the yearning and love fans have for them. It’s not quite a refutation of fandom but it is a dissection. Not to insult YA fiction, but YA is all about escapism and The Magicians is a pretty scathing and blatant critique of escapism. The Magicians is Literature with a capital L, just with the trappings of classical fantasy.

Nope. I read them both in full. I’m going to assume you didn’t read my piece.

Is this the end of the world? Obviously not. But it is worth pointing out. What’s really worth pointing out here is the rather cringing irony that all of the people who claimed I didn’t even read the books go on to correct me on points I actually made myself, proving that — hey — they didn’t even read my article.

I know that there are people who still aren’t convinced that this is about gender, and that’s fine. I don’t think I could explain in 1000 or 10,000 words why my experience on the internet “as a woman…” has always been filled with this kind of response. And I need to state very clearly that I do not ever get these types of comments when people assume I’m a dude.

When people assume I’m a man, they may still criticize what I have to say, but they don’t tell me that my entire piece or my entire argument can be entirely swept aside. When people don’t know I’m a woman, they actually engage with what I’ve written and consider it, even if it’s to disagree. Only when people assume I’m a woman do I get told that my whole argument is based on a giant lie and that, as a result, they don’t need to respond to a single argument I’ve made.

So if your first instinct was to jump on your keyboard and tell me why I’m wrong, why it’s clear I’ve misunderstood everything and why I need to understand x, y and z… just question that instinct first. Maybe I really am wrong, and that’s fine. All the same, ask, really ask, whether you’d have the same reaction if I hadn’t at some point said, “As a woman…”

4 thoughts on “Why My Magicians Piece for The Mary Sue Was All Wrong

  1. Now I’m intrigued as to how the title ‘tea leaves and dog ears’ implies that you’re a woman? And, for that matter, what it means.

    To me it sounds like you got a standard internet reaction: If you make a comment that could be interpreted as a criticism about a fandom’s interest and a significant amount of that fandom will react with vitriol. (And ‘fanfiction’ is a word that will get many backs up no matter how you qualify it).

    While I think you may be overestimating how much more reasoned a response men get on the internet (I’ve been told my whole argument is invalid over one minor point of contention, too), sadly you’re right that a significant percentage of readers seem more willing to dismiss female writers for trivial reasons.

    I really do hope it’s just a vocal minority, but they’re definitely out there.

      • You know full well from my posting history on this blog that I generally find a lot of merit in what you have to say, have defended/agreed with you where I thought your posts were being unfairly criticised and have never valued your opinion any less on the basis of your gender.

        Your post made some valid and important points about the way women are sometimes treated on the internet and I largely agreed with them. Given that my original comment boils down to “Men get unreasonable responses on the internet too sometimes but women definitely get it worse from some (but not all) people” how exactly it is “a further example for everyone”?

        I figured there was validity to your original complaints and said so. But the way you just responded to my comment undermines the point you were making. Which is a shame because it’s fundamentally a good point. :/

        And yes, I still think the term ‘fanfiction’ was poorly chosen. Not because you’re a woman but because, in my experience, it’s an emotive term that tends to make people defensive no matter how much it’s qualified. I think it was an unwise choice of word, regardless of gender.

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