Posts Tagged: Gender Issues

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How to Behave Like
a Princess

“I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”
-Sara Crewe in A Little Princess

I had loved reading fantasy as a child, but even as an older teen I struggled to find speculative fiction that challenged me without making me feel unwelcome and unvalued.

In the early oughts, I nearly gave up on epic fantasy altogether. Until I stumbled across a copy of The Dragonbone Chair at a used bookstore. I can’t quite remember why I decided to give it a chance, but I’m incredibly glad that I did. My love for Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn isn’t unconditional, but it did a lot to restore my faith that I could find fantasy stories that I would enjoy as an adult. I had loved reading fantasy as a child, but even as an older teen I struggled to find speculative fiction that challenged me without making me feel unwelcome and unvalued. After all, Terry Brooks may have given me Brin Ohmsford, but he also turned Amberle into a tree. It wasn’t just that the lives of the girls and women in these novels seemed to revolve around men. What bothered me more was that they rarely acted in ways that seemed logical, consistent, or grounded in anything resembling human behavior. My problem was not that Amberle sacrificed herself, but that I was never convinced it was in character for her to do so, especially as described in the book. And we won’t speak of Piers Anthony, and what it was like to read his novels, which came highly recommended, while also trying to deal with grown men yelling things about my body at me while I walked home from the library. Read More »

Art by Jason Chan

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. Read More »

A Personal Challenge: Gender Balance in 2013

Original Art by Witblogi

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. Read More »

Male. Female. Or Otherwise. by Mazarkis Williams

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.

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Miserere by Teresa FrohockGender 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.

Frohock explains:

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.