Food for Thought Friday

One of my favourite fragments of the internet this week is an interview with Tricia Sullivan, one of those authors I’ve been meaning to get my hands on from her debut novel, though somehow I never have. The interview is fantastic and very inspiring – I very much sympathised with her thoughts on Racefail, and how the way she writes and thinks about her writing has been powerfully shifted thanks to her observation of that huge online discussion which is often mischaracterised as having “achieved nothing”. I was also very interested in Tricia’s discussion of the Clarke Award and gender balance, and how she now questions the (male-dominated) definitions of the genre:

Since having kids, my view of womanhood has changed considerably. I’m conscious of the fact that my concerns are different from classically ‘masculine’ concerns, and are inadequately handled by much of the SF that is out there by male authors. If I want SF that truly appeals to me, I have to hope for more women to come into the field. In the same way, we need more POC…well, really any POC would be nice, actually.

As with racism, I think sexism nowadays is often unconscious. People won’t say to themselves ‘I won’t try that book because it’s by a woman,’ but they will say, ‘I won’t try that book because I like the ones with x, y, and z in them and this book has got j and m.’ And how can you argue with that? People can and do read what they want to. But I think that if you are a white male and everything you read is written by a white male, then it might be worth asking yourself if you shouldn’t consider expanding your tastes somewhat. Some tastes are acquired, but you can’t acquire a taste for something that isn’t on the shelves.

It’s so refreshing to see someone discussing the “well women write less SF so obviously have less representation in SF awards” concept but rather than leaving it at that (so that the responsibility falls on the female authors who don’t write SF or not enough of it) actively talks about why this might be the case, and why, as SF publishing shrinks, it is the women who get squeezed out first.

This topic was picked up over at Torque Control, both the lack of female winners of the Clarke Award but also the minute number of female SF authors published in Britain, and why this might be happening. The discussion in the comments has become rather epic, and while I don’t agree with quite a few of the opinions expressed in said comments (you can probably guess which ones as you read through them) I think the conversation itself is important.

While I’m on a gender theme (heh, you know it’s so unusual around here) I also ran across an excellent post at Geek Feminism about the culture of hating female characters in geek/fan communities. This is a topic I have seen discussed in various places this year – Sarah Rees Brennan has been particularly vocal at the criticisms she receives about her heroine, Mae, as compared to the general response to her hero, Nick (hint: he behaves far more badly and is a million times sluttier, but she gets the vitriole for kissing more than one person, for expressing opinions, etc.)

The article is rather brilliant in the way it dissects the kind of violent and ugly fan response to Gwen from Torchwood and River Song from Doctor Who, and is particularly pointed in the way it compares qualities they share with the male leads of those TV shows, and the way those qualities attract far greater negative response when displayed by a woman. I hadn’t even realised how many similaries there were between Gwen and Captain Jack, though I have long been uncomfortable with the invective used against her character, and not only by the Jack/Ianto shippers, though there is a long tradition of misogyny from slash fans, who often view female lead characters as a threat to their preferred pairing. I remember that when I was hanging out on the edged of the Harry Potter fandom, the levels of hatred and vitriole pointed at Ginny, Hermione and Tonks was somewhat boggling, even before the epilogue came along.

(I have a theory that people are more likely to blame the perceived failings of female fictional characters on the characters themselves rather than the author/writers, and this is certainly a prevailing trend in many fandoms)

The article at Geek Feminism very cleverly addresses the glorification of loudly despising female characters, and the way this can actually have an effect in real life as well, in cultures where women often get to “play with the boys” by dumping on other members of their own gender. Also the frustrating double standard where female fictional characters are often simultaneously criticised for acting “like men” as well as acting “like women”.

Food for thought! And now I go to clean the house.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Charles Tan, Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tansy Rayner Roberts said: some crunchy links to gender discussions to enliven your Friday! […]

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