Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Standing at Thermopylae

Note: For those who are asking, this is an overture. I’ve been invited to respond on the Apex blog. I’ll post the link when I do.

And here’s the link, as promised: Steering the Craft

People versed in the basics of Hellenic mythology know that Athená is the god of wisdom, justice and knowledge — all attributes inherited from her mother, Métis, one of the Great Goddesses literally and metaphorically subsumed by Zeus. Fewer know that Athená is also the god of a particular kind of war: fighting in defense of one’s home.

I have been a vocal and unapologetic feminist my entire life, because I have strong reasons to think that treating women as less than human damages all of humanity. In many ways, I was lucky in the time and place of my birth. Elsewhere/when, given my looks, interests and character, I would be already dead by stoning, burning, drowning, lobotomy… or buried alive in unchosen, coerced domesticity.

Those brave enough to first tackle gender equality often paid for it with their life, health, relationships, reputation, sanity — common fates of anyone who challenges the status quo. Middle-class white women in Western nations, who now make faces at the concept of feminism as démodé, would do well to notice the relentless erosion that happens when we relax our vigilance even slightly. And we still have a long way to go, even in Western nations, even in communities comfortably self-labeled progressive.

Humanity has managed to limp along despite the fierce misogyny that is so embedded in our lives that it passes almost entirely unnoticed. Yet I think we will never truly thrive until/unless we untie that knot. If we do, we may be able to better face the problems that threaten to extinguish us — and perhaps even take to the stars one day, instead of dying out in the churned mud of our own sludge.

I am a feminist and I am feisty. I’m also past fifty, hollowed from the fatigue of chronic pain and my job situation is increasingly uncertain. I would rather have epiphanies in my lab, watch stars fall and flowers bloom, hold my snacho close, dream within book covers, continue to build the universe that I created in my sagas. Besides, I know how little fame and fortune there is in the endless, thankless toil of maintenance. That’s why it’s traditionally women’s work, regardless of culture.

So when another alpha-wannabe knuckle-dragger whines about “PC zombies”and “quality compromised by diversity” without even checking his facts (let alone his assumptions), part of me wants to laugh and ignore him. Especially as I have so many ideas jostling in my head, eager to take form. But that planting will have to wait. Because speculative fiction is my home. Because the world is my home. And I know first-hand how fragile civilization is, and how easily trampled by such boots. So the harvest will have to wait while I don my notched weapons and stand at the gates of my home. As long as I can stand upright, he and his ilk shall not pass.

Images: Top, archaic sculpture of Athená, Acropolis Museum; bottom, Gandalf facing the Balrog in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

44 Responses to “Standing at Thermopylae”

  1. Great post–thanks for this.

  2. Nice post.

    I’ve also been a feminist all my life, though not always as vocal as should have been.

  3. Asakiyume says:

    I do find it hard to know when to dismiss something with a scornful cold shoulder and when to vigorously protest against it. My instinct always tends to the former, and yet you’re so right–it’s all too easy to lose the gains of civilization that way.

    As usual, I appreciate the art you’ve chosen to accompany this.

  4. Athena says:

    Jesse, Sophy, Francesca, thanks for commenting!

    I think we constantly have to make this choice, Francesca. And since our time and stamina are limited, we often choose the former, with ample and good reason. Yet if we don’t stand up from time to time, who will be left to speak, and what will be left worth preserving after such silence?

    They came first for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for me
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    Martin Niemöller

    And I had a suspicion you’d like the accompanying art… *smile*

  5. Terri-Lynne says:

    Being at odds with this situation, I have been largely trying to ignore it. I could not, however, ignore this beautiful battle cry. We all have those things that touch us more deeply than others. This is obviously one of yours. I’ve expressed much the same sentiments you do here, albeit less eloquently, and it’s one of the reasons I worked so long with Girl Scouts. I did what I could to help girls step out of the suburban mores often holding them back, the role of cheerleader, class secretary, home-ec-student, while honoring those who choose such roles because it was what they wished, not what was expected of them, or the only thing open to them.

    I’m sorry that this got so big, mostly because I am connected through a friend and through Apex itself–but sometimes great things come out of chaos, and battles thought small can be truly spectacular in the end. Any opportunity for constructive discourse, no matter how it started, is a good opportunity.

  6. Athena says:

    Dear Terri, I’m sorry to have caused you a dilemma — which makes me appreciate your comment even more. Yes, the issue is very important to me, partly because of my cultural background, partly because of my primary occupation as a scientist. The amount of waste and sheer inhumanity resulting from unexamined attitudes is enormous.

  7. Terri-Lynne says:

    You didn’t cause me any dilemma, no worries, my dear. I respect and admire your arguments.

  8. Rose says:

    As I mentioned in an email, the fact that you will write something is the bright light in this whole thing, which made me physically sick and was the last straw that broke this long-suffering camel’s back. “Quality” is in the eye of the beholder. When will people learn this? When? There is no objective scale to measure quality.

  9. Rose says:

    Edited to add, I am extremely uncomfortable with the fact that Apex solicited such a column in the first place.

  10. Athena says:

    There is some objective scale to quality — we know when a writer, a scientist, an artist is coasting or taking shortcuts. But these people are confusing quality with personal taste either unconsciously (in which case they’re dim bulbs) or consciously (in which case they’re malicious reactionaries).

    As for Apex, what I find astonishing is the statement that they don’t actually read the guest posts for content, only for grammatical errors (Mr. “PC Zombie’s” column could use a good deal of editing for style, as well).

  11. Caliban says:

    Yes, Rose, that thought occurred to me as well when I was reading the post at Apex. The poster writes as if “quality” could be judged like a marathon: this person first, that second, and so on…oops, only the first ten! and then cut-off.

    It is good that Athena and so many like her have the strength to carry on the fight. I salute you all.

  12. Rose says:

    There is some objective scale to quality — we know when a writer, a scientist, an artist is coasting or taking shortcuts. But these people are confusing quality with personal taste either unconsciously (in which case they’re dim bulbs) or consciously (in which case they’re malicious reactionaries).

    Sure, as an editor I know this very well. There are many reasons why poetry gets rejected. Garbled poems written while on pot. Cliched vocabulary. No imagery. Tired ideas, or none at all. Awesome in the beginning, weak in the middle and end. Bad flow. Awesome language, no ideas. Awesome ideas, tired language. You name it, I’ve seen it. But when we come to those submissions that have both craft and heart, the editor relies on his/her taste, life experience, and editorial vision to make final selections.

    It is my observation that a monocultural editor, unless he or she makes an effort, will end up duplicating him or herself in submissions chosen. A scientist will lean toward hard SF. A person raised on fairytales will buy pieces riffing off Brothers Grimm. A white middle-aged feminist will buy work by white middle-aged feminists or younger women “in training”.

    Broadening one’s editorial horizons takes effort.

    If they were to go through my slush, Mike Allen, Erzebet Yellowboy, and Amal El-Mohtar would all make completely different choices. And all three of them put out high quality publications.

    I will never put out a magazine that is not as diverse as I can manage. It requires effort, but it is a worthy goal. Choosing – and looking for – poems by nonwhite nonmale nonstraight nonhealthy as well as poems by white male straight able healthy or any other combination does not jeopardize the quality of my magazine. It makes it better.

    As for Apex, what I find astonishing is the statement that they don’t actually read the guest posts for content, only for grammatical errors (the article could also stand a good deal of editing for style, as well).

    Sorry, this is just mind-boggling to me.

  13. Athena says:

    Thank you, Calvin! Strength, well — we’ll see.

    Rose, here’s the crucial kernel: A monocultural editor, unless he or she makes an effort, will end up duplicating him or herself in submissions chosen. Broadening one’s editorial horizons takes effort. As in not just relying on the automatic pilot of cultural hardwiring and the solipsism it causes.

  14. Thanks for the opening salvo.
    What I specifically want to know from these anti-PC folks article are these things:
    How would they remedy the constant whitewashing book cover issue?
    When a guest of honor declares a religious group–both foreign-born and native US–not “proper citizens,” what should be the response?
    When prominent SF authors write blog posts expressing their hatred of gay people, why is it bad to call them out on their bigotry?
    It’s like the Dr. Laura thing–she screams the n-word 11 times, declares black people braindead parrots, and suggests that people in interracial marriages have to tolerate racism in their homes, and when you call her a bigot, she claims she lost her First Amendment Rights.
    This PC strawman argument is a massive smoke screen.

  15. Athena says:

    Glad you enjoyed the salvo, Craig!

    Some things have been answered, which happens when people truly listen. I believe that at least one whitewashed cover got corrected, WisCon has rescinded its invitation to Elizabeth Moon as the Guest of Honor, those SF authors who are openly bigoted find themselves increasingly isolated professionally and Shyamalan’s Airbender was the resounding failure it deserved to be. That doesn’t mean any of the problems you listed is solved, not by a long shot — and each generation needs to be educated anew so that we don’t retread the poisonous mistakes.

    And I, like all of us, can only do a tiny bit of this herculean task even if it became my full-time job.

  16. Rose says:


    I myself am a PC bogeyman, but let me put the other on for a moment.


    How would they remedy the constant whitewashing book cover issue?
    “The artist was just going for the most beautiful image. Why is this a problem? The cover is gorgeous and those PC people are spoiling everything. ”

    When a guest of honor declares a religious group–both foreign-born and native US–not “proper citizens,” what should be the response?
    “You are blowing it out of all proportion. She was just expressing her opinion. And besides, I agree with her argument – it was very well reasoned.”

    When prominent SF authors write blog posts expressing their hatred of gay people, why is it bad to call them out on their bigotry?
    “They were just expressing their opinions. And besides, those gay people are very vocal these days. That’s how they get chosen for anthologies and such. Damn PC crowd destroying quality! That’s why magazines are folding – I have no interest in this exotic crap.”

    I made this up based on actual responses I’ve seen around.

  17. Rose says:

    Athena – I know it’s an effort even for me, and I am multicultural, widely traveled, studied over 20 languages, and read widely. Awareness is important in these issues, as is empathy.

  18. Athena says:

    Empathy… yes. Another crucial kernel. Bottom line: if you can’t/won’t put yourself in others’ shoes, how are you going to imagine alternate realities and write convincing aliens (broadly defined)?

  19. Thanks for this.

    I was very frustrated reading that post, but I chose not to engage because I had a “discussion” about self-publishing with Gustavo in his last Apex blog (think you were there, too), and felt like I was talking to a wall. And his recent post just seemed so flamey and set and looking for an argument, I didn’t respond.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for speaking up; you made me wish I had done better, and have encouraged me to not shy away from it next time.

  20. Neo says:

    Dear Athena,
    I don’t know much about SF authors, so I won’t comment on the topic. But I can say this.
    I love to read your blog, and your spirit of exploration. More than anything, I love it when you talk about need of space exploration.

    “Can we live only day to day, without a large future goal? Now that humanity has covered the face of the planet, where is the frontier? What will give us a unified vision, something larger than ourselves?”


  21. Athena says:

    Dave, you’re welcome! I actually didn’t know Bondoni existed till I saw a terse note by Nora Jemisin about his latest Apex column.

    I debated about getting involved, for the reasons I mention in the post. Then I read both his columns. Although it’s clear that nothing will change his mind (?), I decided that this could not pass unchallenged — and comments are not as visible as front-page articles.

    Neo, thank you so much! You read The Double Helix, eh? *smile* That article is my kernel, if you read nothing more from me you will know me well enough from that one.

    I wish I could spend less time on people like the author of the Apex column and more time thinking of the stars and how we might reach them. The problem is that views like his may well prevent us from ever launching our starships.

  22. Rose Lemberg says:

    I’ve seen Bondoni around LJ, and he’s always been like that. Frankly, it’s just like Nick Mamatas says – Bondoni has no clout. He has editorial experience, and yes, two dozens of sales, sure, but to token-pay and some semi-pro markets. This in itself is definitely not an issue, but imho these are not credentials that give one a right to speak about anyone’s editorial process or market considerations. Which is why I think it is a continuing failure of Apex to engage him as a columnist. There are much better ways to attract a readership than to post such provocative bullshit.

  23. Athena says:

    Being the Kurious Kat — and with the scientist’s habit of acquiring data — I spot-read his LJ. After which I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush.

    I agree that Apex should be more selective. It’s not as if they would be stumped for choice. I spot-read their blog, also, and many of the entries are well-written and interesting. So, among other ills, they’re compromising the standing of the other participants who are familiar with the concept of, you know, editing.

  24. Rose says:

    Athena – re: scrubbing, exactly. Did you see my comments this morning in Jim Hines’ blog? Here’s one:

    Looking forward to your column!

    Warmly, Rose

  25. Layogenic says:

    Sorry it took me so long to read and get to this after you linked it from Jesse’ blog. I’m still sort of flailing with my vocabulary and ability to comment coherently on these topics, and you were definitely the target (in a firing-squad sort of way, not a selling sort of way) of Gustavo’s post, so I didn’t want to just come in to this swinging. But I got here and found nothing more than a fairly inspirational post about somebody who has fought the good fight long enough to earn her choice not to engage.

    All I’m left to say after this is: I hope that someday I will earn that right. I hope that someday I will be able to look back on my life and say “Yes, I’ve earned my jaded hide, I’ve earned my pessimism, I’ve earned my aches and pains.” I hope someday I’ll be able to say I did all I could for what I believed, and when I have, I hope like you I’ll still be able to do more.

  26. Athena says:

    Thank you, Layo. Oh, I am engaging. I will be doing a blog column at Apex. It won’t be a rebuttal — there are no real arguments in Bondoni’s post that merit rebuttal. I will use it instead to talk of things that matter.

    Judging from your words, you will earn that right, too. The problem is that earning them will not grant any of us rest. We will have to keep doing it until we drop from fatigue.

  27. Layogenic says:

    I agree entirely. The difference is we will have earned that fatigue. I make that hope from my position of privilege, from which neither my merit nor effort is guaranteed. But thanks for the vote of confidence. I look forward for something resembling cognition on the internet.

  28. Chang says:


    Well put! I, as a white male (a posterchild of the patriarchy some have called me), found myself incredibly annoyed by this post by Bodoni. The mere fact that he says “It seems to me that we’re still trying to fight a battle that was won years ago” makes me want to scream because the mere fact that this is an issue with many people coming out to say he’s frigging wrong is a clear indicator that the battle, the war, the entire struggle is far from over.

  29. Athena says:

    Nice to hear from you, Chang! Well, as I said before, I don’t think anything I say will change Bodoni’s mind (?). After all, I belong to the inferior wimminz species. I will simply try to use the opportunity to discuss interesting stuff.

  30. Caliban says:

    Chang, you remind me of an incident years ago, when I was a postdoc at Caltech. Over lunch a bunch of us were discussing the issue of women in physics, and the professor supervising us said, Oh, there’s no sexism at Caltech, we’re too smart for that.

    Now, to his credit, he was pretty fair with women; in fact our lab had, for Caltech, had a relatively high proportion of women. But keep in mind Caltech only started admitting women as students in the early seventies. So I marched around and asked all the women in the lab, from secretaries to postdocs (no professors there!). All said, (a) this lab is pretty good but (b) had horror stories from elsewhere on campus.

    I was dating a math grad student at the time, and she even heard, not from grizzled old professors, but from fellow grad students, that women were not “genetically” as capable in math as men.

    The point of my story is that my supervisor assumed that since he, personally, was not sexist (and again relatively speaking he wasn’t) and since he, personally, hadn’t noticed much overt sexism, recently, he assumed there wasn’t sexism at Caltech. But he wasn’t concerned enough to go around and actually actively ask. (And I know what Athena will ask: what if someone challenged him? I don’t know. I doubt he would have been as cringe-inducingly obnoxious as Bondoni.)

    The point is, it is rather short-sighted for a man to claim unequivocably there is no sexism, or for a white person to claim there is no racism (or that the prejudice whites face is as oppressive as that felt by other groups). Because they aren’t likely to see it.

  31. says:

    […] There was plenty of fail in Gustavo’s post, and the comments erupted.  It inspired posts by Athena Andreadis and Jesse Bullington (there are others, I know, but Athena and Jesse’s posts are the only ones […]

  32. MG Ellington says:


    I am deeply grateful for your offer to write a guest post for Apex. I look forward to it with great anticipation.


  33. Athena says:

    Dear Mary Grace, I wish to thank Apex for giving me the opportunity. My post may not be what people expect… because I’m firmly determined not to let any of us waste more of our irreplaceable time on worthless vaporings.

  34. Susan says:

    “Besides, I know how little fame and fortune there is in the endless, thankless toil of maintenance. That’s why it’s traditionally women’s work, regardless of culture.”

    This, for me, is the great unspoken truth. Misogyny – hatred of women – is determined by the constant assignation of that unrewarding work solely to us. That domesticity (I am being careful to use that catch-all word) is a low-status activity that men are clever enough to eschew is the elephant in the room.

    I eschew it proudly because I was born to fulfil higher and more important things. If I say this out loud, I am only expressing what many men implicitly feel is their right.

    I think that is the first time I’ve said that out loud. Thank you Athena for nailing it.

  35. Susan says:

    Regarding the linked post…I think if you follow this guy’s logic, you end up being overrun by Zorn from the Planet Zarg style stories and little of any other perspective. And I happen not to like that style, but maybe I am just a troublesome female…:)

    I don’t agree with the US left on many things and I find the stridency sometimes troubling, but I think this guy has missed a few important points.

  36. Athena says:

    I’m not much for domesticity, either, Susan — but I like to live in beautiful surroundings. That also requires effort and maintenance. As for Zorn and his fear of girl cooties, the irony is that two of the best space operas ever written are by women: Downbelow Station (C. J. Cherryh) and In Conquest Born (C. S. Friedman). I’ll give you three guesses why the authors’s first names are only initials, and the first two don’t count.

    Virginia Woolf had interesting things to say about the stridency you mention — first in A Room of One’s Own, when she compared and contrasted Charlotte Brontë with Jane Austen; and later in Three Guineas, when she herself forgot to be ladylike for the first and only time in her life.

  37. Susan says:

    I just read one of your linked posts where you mentioned that one of these editors rejected the idea of women writers because “women tend to write about people and feelings” – at which point my reaction was: for f***’s sake, what the hell else is a story ultimately about except people and their sodding feelings? I thought that was the stupidest response I had ever heard and betrayed a lot about the person’s pure ignorance of the writing process and what makes truly great stories. Of course that ignorance was probably informed by sexism which in turn was informed by a greater fear of females he is probably unwilling and/or unable to acknowledge.

    Yeah, you’re right about domestic bliss. Stuff has to get cleaned up, and engaging a cleaner is only outsourcing the problem! I guess my comment was a cry of protest about how we’re still expected to fall for the myth that we’re fulfilling a higher function by doing this stuff and then have society treat us with contempt. It’s all a swindle, really.

  38. Athena says:

    Agreed on all counts. Domesticity is where all the pretty words are shown up for the false coin they really are.

  39. intrigued_scribe says:

    Beautifully said and spot on as always, Athena; thanks for this.

    This PC strawman argument is a massive smoke screen.

    Absolutely. And all too often, when such individuals are called on their bigotry, protests about “rights to free speech” (or other kinds of rights, noticeably), are beneath the surface about selective privilege.

    Concerning Bondoni’s post, irritating is one of the milder words I’d use.

  40. Athena says:

    Yes, Heather, all larger, powerful corporations are run by underqualified black women promoted on the quota system… oh, wait. And the male white Masters of the Universe really did so well in Wall Street, Iraq — the list can go on forever. In fact, women and non-whites tend to be promoted whenever an institution is in trouble because their careers and reputations are considered disposable.

  41. Sue Lange says:

    Looking forward to seeing the post at Apex.

  42. Athena says:

    Sue, many thanks for the support!

  43. I can’t help wondering how different the world would look if every nation were run by a mother with four or more kids of draft age.

  44. Athena says:

    Very different, for sure! Though four or more kids is a lot — unless she had a whole extended/chosen family helping.