Replacing “old” with “hegemonic”

This is an expanded summary of what I said on Twitter (see under @roselemberg). 

Regarding various ongoing conversations in the SFF field, I see, from all sides, multiple references to the speakers’ ages (‘the Young’, ‘children’, the ‘Old’, ‘the Old Guard’, ‘they will die off’) that make me uncomfortable. I am convinced that these labels are unhelpful in both describing and understanding the processes of change in which we participate and which we are witnessing.

I’d like to replace the word “old” with  the word “hegemonic”. What we are seeing is not the “old” versus the”young”, but power brokers reluctant to share that power with those who, for various reasons (age not being one) have not been in hegemonic positions. Nobody is asking the power brokers to give up the power – just to share it. I believe that’s what the backlash is about.

Using “old” or “young” to describe the various sides of this debate is not just inaccurate, it is hurtful. It hurts because it misrepresents that people of various ages are on both sides of this. Young people can and do align with the hegemonic positions; people in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond are working for greater diversity and more equal power-sharing in the field. Moreover, those positions are often not binary. There is great intersectionality in both power and its lack.

A very large issue I have with the label “olds” is that it overlooks that we – the non-hegemonic people of various stripes – also have elders. I do not want to ignore our roots, our trailblazers. What we are seeing is not a generational shift but the cumulative work of generations gaining momentum in the now. This momentum brings with it a shift towards greater acceptance of diversity and sharing of power. While generational trends are certainly there, that’s not what it is about at the core, as I see it.

I am also, to put it mildly, not keen on the “die-off” sentiment. I wish the power brokers would get it and share freely. It is not impossible. It has happened, and will continue happening.

On the other hand, power hierarchies tend to self-perpetuate. Which is why waiting for the current power brokers to “die off” is useless. Expecting for any power hierarchy to not self-perpetuate after the expected “die-off” is as futile as politely asking for the power.

Rethinking, reframing, and remaking the power structures; expanding discourse; having painful conversations and learning from them; forming alliances; empowering diverse voices through opportunities, including publishing opportunities (the more lucrative, the better); establishing venues; creating and maintaining our spaces; fighting for safety in our spaces; and of course, creating works of art and disseminating them – while upholding others – is how I see this change happening.

At its core, the change I hope for empowers and expands our field, enriches everyone who participates in it regardless of age and other variables. This change is already well underway.

5 Comments

  1. Nisi Shawl says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been saying this also, from the perspective of a 58-year-old African American woman. So happy not to be excluded and erased. So delighted to have my efforts acknowledged.

    • Rose says:

      Thank YOU, Nisi. I look up to you, and I think we need to recognize and celebrate the work of people of all ages who have been and continue to be crucial in our community.

    • Bogi Takács says:

      I am delighted by your presence and your great work and I also look up to you! I’m also looking forward to your novel 🙂

  2. Deirdre says:

    Thank you for this. I’d actually been meaning to comment on it myself, particularly in light of two paragraphs out of this post by Juliet McKenna:

    http://jemck.livejournal.com/171552.html

    Having read getting on for 200 SF books over 2012-2013 as a Clarke Award judge, I found a range of attitudes from socially conservative/sexist/veiled-racist to adventurous, progressive, informed and thought-provoking social commentary. There was absolutely no correlation between the age and gender of the author and the presence of outdated or offensive ideas. Some of the worst offenders were younger men and women. Some of the best work was written by middle-aged and older white men, for whom age and experience had brought perspective and insight.

    There’s a logical fallacy at work here. A spider has eight legs but having eight legs doesn’t make something a spider. It can be an octopus. The currently noisy and offensive crowd may be predominately old white men. That doesn’t mean anyone who happens to be old, white and/or male automatically holds outdated and offensive views. Please don’t make that mistake and add further venom to this already toxic mix.

  3. Dr David Maund says:

    A good put-down is experience. Know nothing of SF but consider that any one person has several ages depending on circumstance. Thus sometimes I’m 17! And so on. Conclusion labels don’t help.

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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