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Kameron Hurley is the author of The Geek Feminist Revolution, a book of essays that explores some of the challenges facing women and minorities in the science fiction world—challenges Hurley has encountered again and again. Like, for example, the time a friend of hers had a run-in with an established author at a science fiction convention and the author told Hurley’s friend her work wasn’t “hard sf” enough.

“He looked at her and goes, ‘You are worth less than the shit on my shoe,’” Hurley says in Episode 206 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And it was like, OK, thanks, welcome to science fiction.”

Hurley also explores feminist issues in novels like God’s War, which imagines a matriarchal society that oppresses men. She says that turning the tables like that can help make people more aware of how injustice works.

“I did have several readers email me and they said, ‘You know what, I didn’t really understand microaggressions and sexism until I read this book,’” she says.

Talking about feminism online requires a high tolerance for verbal abuse, but Hurley says her childhood as a geek helped her develop a thick skin.

“I tried to be really nice, and like the things other people liked, and do the things other people were supposed to do, and what you find out is that they’re going to bully you anyway,” she says. “And I thought, you know what? If I’m going to get bullied anyway, I might as well get bullied for making a difference in the world.”

She’s now developed a sizable following, and often hears from readers that her work has inspired them to make big changes in their lives. She says that sort of feedback makes it easy to ignore all the hostility.

“You can tell me to die on the Internet all day, but doing that kind of good in the world, it makes all that other stuff just ridiculous,” she says.

Listen to our complete interview with Kameron Hurley in Episode 206 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Kameron Hurley on critiquing problematic writing:

“It’s all perfectly fine and good for you to get on social media when Twitter comes at you and be like, ‘Hey, well, I wanted to write a misogynist, horrible society where women have a terrible time, that was my purpose and that was my artistic choice.’ Fine. Great. But don’t get up there and say, ‘It’s not misogynist and I didn’t write this blah blah blah.’ That’s what you wrote, just own up to it. That’s what you wrote, and if that is a conscious artistic choice that you made and there’s a purpose for you doing it, then you go right ahead. That doesn’t mean people aren’t going to critique you. As an artist you’re going out into the world. You need to understand that you’re going to hear from everybody.”

Kameron Hurley on alien societies:

“We’re writing fantasy, we’re writing science fiction, we could literally do anything. This always got to me reading the Ray Bradbury Martian stories. I tried to get into them, and literally we’re on Mars and it’s like, ‘The Martian man reads the newspaper and calls to his wife in the kitchen, who’s making dinner,’ and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me right now?’ It’s like 1950s America on Mars. Maybe he meant it in an ironic way, but knowing Bradbury he’s just having fun. So I was like, ‘No, no I’m not doing that.’”

Kameron Hurley on imagining a consent-based culture in her work:

“At the age of 12, all of the people in this culture, you are not allowed to physically touch them in any way, unless they give their permission. So if you want to hug someone, if you would like to touch their shoulder, if you would like to hold them back from rushing into a burning building, you have to ask for their permission. And it was just a very interesting thing where I said, ‘Hey, I want to make a fully consent-based culture, I want to know what that looks like.’ And you could give a blanket consent to someone you’re in love with and say you’ve consented to X, Y, and Z. And of course it would turn into these interesting negotiations between characters of what is and isn’t OK.”

Kameron Hurley on strong female characters:

“I think that there’s this idea—especially for male readers, but female readers as well, because we’re all indoctrinated, right?—where there’s this idea that if a woman is tough, it can only be in a way that is still sexy. Because if she is not still a sexual object, then that’s really scary, and that’s abhorrent, and that’s monstrous, and we need to get rid of that. So what ends up happening is you have the ‘tough but vulnerable’ character, and that in and of itself is a fantasy. It’s something where we can say ‘this is acceptably strong.’ There’s a line, which I think you see quite a bit. So yeah, it’s something that I try to be aware of, and it’s something that kind of bugs me when I see it.”

Excerpt from:  

The Geek Feminist Revolution Has Arrived