'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative
I’m going to tell you a story about llamas. It will be like every other story you’ve ever heard about llamas: how they are covered in fine scales; how they eat their young if not raised properly; and how, at the end of their lives, they hurl themselves – lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea. They are, at heart, sea creatures, birthed from the sea, married to it like the fishing people who make their livelihood there.
Every story you hear about llamas is the same. You see it in books: the poor doomed baby llama getting chomped up by its intemperate parent. On television: the massive tide of scaly llamas falling in a great, majestic herd into the sea below. In the movies: bad-ass llamas smoking cigars and painting their scales in jungle camouflage.
Because you’ve seen this story so many times, because you already know the nature and history of llamas, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to see a llama outside of these media spaces. The llamas you see don’t have scales. So you doubt what you see, and you joke with your friends about “those scaly llamas” and they laugh and say, “Yes, llamas sure are scaly!” and you forget your actual experience. Continue reading
Last year was the first time that I took part in Goodread’s Reading Challenge, which allows you to set a goal of how many novels you wish to read in the year. I read 25 books. It’s not a lot, but it’s what I can fit into an increasingly busy life. What I found more interested, however, was looking back at the list and reflecting on my reading habits throughout the year.
This year, I set myself a new goal 26 books, one more than last year and, more importantly, an even number. My secondary goal is to end the year not only at this number, but with 13 novels by female authors, and 13 novels by male authors, an equal split of gender. Why? Because last year I only read 8 novels by women, about 33% of my total output. Also, because I think it’s good to challenge oneself. Continue reading
An author from an online writing group once offered some advice. He said a homosexual character should never be included in a story unless his/her sexual preference figured into the plot. Otherwise, it was a distraction, he said. To him, a gay character stood out—didn’t fit—and anything non-default about a character should be important to the plot.
Sometimes I get a dizzy feeling and I think I’m communicating with someone from another planet. This was one of those times. The idea that all characters must fit to some ‘default’ expectation threw me. How would I know who all my readers were, and what the ‘default’ was for them? Were they all straight? White? Middle-class? I didn’t think so. And where does one have to live so that homosexuals stand out as unusual? Yes, I have lived in urban areas most of my life, but still. Still. Even for an extremely plot-oriented writer (for whom characters are tools of the story), this guy was missing something.
So. Reader expectations. I cannot possibly guess what they are. I can comment only on reader behaviour, and that may reveal a bit about their expectations. And the first thing that comes to mind is that, as a member of both the fantasy/sci-fi community and the adjacent gaming community, I see a lot of discomfort with gender issues.
Gender is always a hot-topic issue in the Fantasy and Science Fiction fan community. Though we’re not perfect (who is?), we’re constantly working to become a community that promotes equality and diversity among its fans, authors and the characters that bring us all together. In the spirit of gender equality, Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere, along with several of her author friends, has put together a little challenge and contest. The catch? You’ve got to read some passages, and decide whether it the author is male/female/or otherwise.
Tell us, based on the prose, whether the scene was written by a man or a woman. At the end, I want to tabulate the results and see if readers can really tell the difference. If you want to, you may say why you feel a particular scene was written by a man or woman, but you don’t have to.
Yes, as a scientific study, it is full of holes and sucks, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. This little test is an itch that I’ve been wanting to scratch for a long time, especially when I read the Fantasy Reddit and I don’t see a single woman listed for best novel in 2012. I know women released books in 2012. Perhaps I’m hanging out in all the wrong places.
Or maybe the “female-authors-equal-romance-y/YA-ish-themes” connotation is true in readers’ minds, so you all are skipping novels by women entirely. I wonder. And when I think too much, I tend to get into trouble … or hold a contest.
So, are you up for the task? Details about the contest can be found on Frohock’s site. Entries are due by the end of the this weekend, with results, winners and discussion following on Monday, January 7th, including a post here from Mazarkis Williams on writing without a gender.
You guys/gals criticized me for saying that the cover for Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War wasn’t over-sexualized. Maybe you were right, maybe I was right. Maybe we both were. I think there’s a line between positive sexual energy and being over-sexualized, but it’s a thin one and often hard to discern. But, to follow up, I thought I’d post this absolute gem from Baen Books for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold. You know, the author with 10+ Hugo nominations, and various other lauded awards, to her name. Doesn’t she, and don’t we, deserve better? Sadly, this is hardly new territory for Baen.
In somewhat related news, it worth following the recent discussion titled #1reasonwhy about the struggle that women face while trying to find equality and fair representation in the videogame industry. The coverage on Giant Bomb is a good starting point for following the discussion.