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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Zombie Contingency Plans and Other Coode Street Notes

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Some thoughts raised by the recent episode of The Coode Street Podcast, featuring Locus editor/debut novelist Amelia Beamer:

Amelia’s first zomromcom novel The Loving Dead sounds all kinds of awesome and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered it, I would be doing so on the strength of this podcast! The discussion of Kelly Link’s influence on how zombie stories can be told was also really interesting. Also the most recent zombie contingency plan I read was in a Glee fanfic. They get around!

The gang discuss the growing divide in the scene between short and long fiction as one is increasingly published by small/independent presses and the other by mass market. While I agree with this discussion in the main, I do think it should be pointed out that the one area this seems to not be true (and is becoming less true if that makes sense) is YA. I’ve been saying for the last couple of years that some of the most interesting work in spec fic seems to be coming out of the YA field. I’ve also noticed more and more mass market short fiction collections emerging from that field – they might have trashy titles and seem to be mostly about vampires, zombies, boyfriends and prom dates, but they are also featuring some of the most respected writers in the field, such as Holly Black, Libba Bray, the Larbalesterfelds, and so on. I see these books popping up in places like the local Big W (the closest thing Australia has to a Wal-Mart, I think) and can never resist picking them up, because even though sometimes they will have a bunch of cheeseball Buffy wannabe tales in them, there is almost certain to be a couple of real gems, and even the average stories are a lot more readable to me than the contents of an average issue of F&SF.

This is particularly noteworthy, I think, considering the massmarket paperback release of Kelly Link’s YA collection, Pretty Monsters. I’ve seen it a few places and didn’t buy it because I knew I had all the stories, but since then the very existence of that book has (quite appropriately) been eating my brain, to the point that I know next time I go into town I am going to pick it up. It’s a freaking Kelly Link book, and seeing it on bookshelves in my home town instead of having to order a pretty hardback from Small Beer Press is all kinds of awesome. I regularly lend out her first two collections, and I know that this is a book I will regularly press into people’s hands. So yes, I’m going to be buying it.

I’m actually completely in the mood to reread Kelly Link’s body of work, and not just because of Gary Wolfe reminding me how awesome Magic For Beginners was.

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The Phantom is a Woman!

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Mostly this post is because [info] godiyeva doesn’t check her email enough, and I need her to see this link about how they have finally written a Phantom comic in which the legendary costume is worn by a woman.

I never found the love for the Phantom, I’m afraid – it was all far too patriarchal to make a dent in my cultural stash – but this review makes me tempted to give it a try. I’m particularly excited that it’s a 19th century story and that the plot revolves around another female character. Bechdelicious! Shame it’s only a one shot.

Now the question is… is there an app for that?

Other People’s Sons and the Gendered Shopping Experience

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

I discovered (via bluemilk) this new feminist-academic-mommy blog that is full of all kind of smart thinking. I was particularly moved by this post which discussed how the writer became confronted with the societal attitudes towards gender during her pregnancy and early years of parenthood. There’s lots of great stuff to unpack in the post, here’s a sample:

Then there’s the experience of watching gendered expectations and values applied to our child, who is largely approached more as “a little boy” than as “a person”–not only by advertisers (gee, why don’t we want him to watch TV?!?) and popular culture at large but also by absolute strangers in our community and even people we love and who love us. Most people comment enthusiastically on his every masculine-coded activity or inclination and simply do not notice or acknowledge all the feminine-coded parts of his experience and personhood. And once you enter a store, whoa. My mom was blown away when she went into a bookstore’s picture book section and inquired about what’s new for a three-year-old, only to be asked the immediate routing question: “Boy or girl?” (gee, where do gendered reading habits and, ultimately, academic interests come from?!?). My partner, our son, and I recently went into a children’s resale shop to find the inscription “Sugar and spice and everything nice” over the nearly-all-pink girls’ section. It’s suffocating.

I’ve talked about this before, and no doubt will keep on talking about it – whenever [info] godiyeva (who has three sons) and I start in on it, we keep going until we froth at the mouth. There is nothing wrong with girls liking pink or boys liking trucks, but the immense cultural and social and commercial pressure to force children into little gender-approved boxes is enraging and frustrating.

My Dad often tells the story about when I was born, and he went down to buy some baby blankets, and the woman at the shop wouldn’t let him buy “two each please” of pink, blue and yellow, but kept asking over and over whether he had had a girl, or a boy.

It hasn’t got better. Many, many things have got better for girls and women (and boys and men, it has to be said) as far as gender constraints, since I was born in 1978. But many things haven’t got better, and many things have got worse and worse and worse. Walk into a shop, and try to find something that is actually gender neutral, whether that be an item of clothing or a toy. They exist, but they’re getting harder and harder to find. Sure, you can give your daughter fighter pilot Lego and your son fairy wings, but why does every purchase have to be part of a gender revolution?

Why is it so easy to tell which children’s toothpaste is intended for girls, and which for boys? Why is it that only the TV tie in merchandise tends to have a balance of male & female characters within the same range of toys?

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she is too awesome for me to relate to

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Some links on feminist issues, sexism & gender awareness.

Sarah Rees Brennan is writing awesomeness about women in fiction again, debunking all the dumb excuses people give for being more critical of female characters than male (features the big spoiler for The Demon’s Lexicon):

There are also issues with writing people with disabilities, people of colour, people who are gay. There are even issues with writing straight white guys, because they too live in a world where inequality exists, and this affects them too! All these issues! That’s why it is impossible to ever write any characters at all. And so all my writing goes like this ‘the void… BLANK PAGES … the void… BLANK PAGES.’ It’s very deep.

Cheryl Morgan talks about how to get women nominating for and appearing on the Hugo shortlists, and looks a bit at the psychology that means women usually don’t get fairly represented. In particular she suggests that women are more likely to disqualify themselves from being well-read enough to venture an opinion.

[info] coffeeandink on male privilege & perception of merit in comics – a beautiful illustration of the ways in which some men can unconsciously discount the work of women, particularly in geek-friendly arenas. This might be one to bookmark and point people to as a great example of invisible sexism at work.

A round-table discussion on how to define and redefine ‘strong’ when it comes to YA heroines.

Moving away from speculative fiction and geekery circles, here’s an interview with Natasha Walter about the return of sexism and the pressure on young girls who don’t feel they have a choice to opt out of porn culture.

The Princess and the Frog

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Princess_Tiana_by_al305srBefore I went to see this film, I read this great post by Nnedi Okorafor which deals with some of the issues she had with the film (which she otherwise liked), particularly with racial & cultural themes. You should read it too, because it’s great.

My response to the film is not just as a woman, someone who generally enjoys Disney movies and a feminist, but also as the mum of a little girl who adores Disney Princesses and has bought into the brand lock stock and barrel.

The movie itself is great – beautifully drawn, with good crunchy characters and probably the best Disney romance since Hercules and Megara (or, if we’re talking romances for Disney princesses, Belle and the Beast). I have no way of knowing if 1920′s New Orleans is being presented here in an authentic way, but there was a surprising depth of cultural details that I certainly enjoyed. The music contributed to this, and blended very well with the story (more so than in most Disney movies of the last 15 years where a couple of ‘big’ songs are thrown haphazardly in between dialogue). Even the random stuffed-toys-in-the-making animal helper characters had interesting personalities and story arcs (I shed a tear over Ray the firefly).

But never mind the story, it’s the princess that parents everywhere will have to live with. Let’s look at Tiana…

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Happy Day of Awesome Posts About Gender

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Mari Ness posts about gendered gaze, artistic assumptions and the way that women’s participation in the arts becomes so quickly forgotten, and made invisible. (via @Krasnostein on Twitter)

This is a great post, and raises one of the issues that I know I need to keep in mind – when complaining about the imbalance of women in the arts, it’s very easy to render invisible those who are and always have been a part of the scene. That’s one of the reasons that I like to review books that I read, even though it adds extra pressure to the whole reading-as-a-hobby thing (ha!).

The most memorable and important class I took at college (grades 11 & 12, not university) was Art Appreciation, which I chose purely because I had already signed up for the maximum number of history and english classes that could count towards university, and this was an essay-based subject. I had a great teacher, Wayne, who introduced us to a whirlwind of art history, and had a particular interest in pointing out female artists, and the use of women as subjects of art. His passion that year was artistic depictions of Judith slaying Holophernes, and this led me to Artemisia Gentileschi, still my favourite artist and the one who is most important to me. I chose female artists as my year-long project and wrote about Artemisia, and Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Judy Chicago, and Georgia O’Keeffe. My eyes were well and truly opened to women in the world of fine arts, and the way they are so often overlooked, and that has always stayed with me.

Anyway, read Mari’s post, it’s awesome and layered with all sorts of things that I know I should think about more – like the way that people assume that any artwork that is anonymous is male, and that if it wasn’t made by women, it’s not art but ‘craft’.

And since apparently this is the day of awesome posts about gender, Overland have one over at their blog, too. (via @TalieHelene on Twitter, I love that people send me this stuff directly now!) This post picks up on a few other discussions about invisible sexism in literature and asks some important questions:

• Is there a difference between what women and men write?
• What do we judge as good writing?
• Where do we get these ideas about good writing from?
• How important is voice and experience to good writing?

All good stuff, and that distracted me nicely from my appalling strep throat and paranoia that the antibiotics aren’t kicking in for at least twenty minutes. Thank you, internet!

Alyx and the Doctor (Understanding Joanna Russ Part 2)

Friday, January 15th, 2010

The Adventures of Alyx (1976)
On Joanna Russ (2009)

I’m certainly glad that I read the Gary K Wolfe article, “Alyx Among the Genres” in On Joanna Russ, because without it I would have been rather alarmed and confused by the oddities of the Alyx collection. The individual pieces (mostly short stories, plus one extraordinary short novel) are marvellous on their own, but trying to figure out how they fit together is something of a puzzle. Luckily, having read the article, I knew it was supposed to be a puzzle, and enjoyed the process of thinking it out and being challenged by the seeming contradictions, rather than just being baffled.

It reminded me of a discussion I listened to recently on the Bridging the Rift podcast, about the origin of the word “canon” as regards to fandom as opposed to religious texts, which was utterly fascinating, largely for the history of Sherlock Holmes fandom, but also because of the idea of the Doctor as a mythological figure rather than a one-off literary creation – certainly having a character covered by so many different creative teams over nearly five decades has produced almost as many inconsistencies as the centuries of Greek myth!

Alyx, like the Doctor, is presented in these stories as a character without necessarily a perfectly consistent chronology, background or origin story, who remains nevertheless narratively constant so that the stories all contribute to an idea of who or what Alyx is, without needing to agree on little things like what age she is, where she comes from, whether she comes from our prehistoric times or an alternate fantasy world, and whether or not Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd is her ex-boyfriend.

Picnic on Paradise in particular is an astounding story which sets up Alyx as a person taken out of her own time and set to work without having been thoroughly educated on what this odd future has to offer. It’s a marvellous story of someone alienated by an entire culture, who never quite grasps the details of what is going on, but is savvy and fierce enough to deal with just about anything that is thrown at her. The quirks that come from her not understanding anything from what they eat, or how they interact with each other, let alone the recreational drugs and their attitude to aging/death are what makes this tiny novel so incredibly thought provoking while still being a ripping, high-paced read.

Thinking about it in retrospect, and the way that Alyx is established over her handful of fictional appearances, the book reminds me somewhat of Kate Orman and Jonathan Blum’s Fallen Gods, a novella which very much explored the idea of the Doctor as a mythological character.

Meanwhile my reading of On Joanna Russ continues. I’m still on Helen Merrick’s excellent article, which shows how Joanna struggled with the same issue that feminists have today: in attempting to criticise the institutionalised and social issues that limit or constrain women in a particular field, such as science fiction, as part of a larger pattern you end up either criticising or appearing to criticise your peers – the discussion too easily turns personal, and becomes small while the larger issues remain ignored. There’s also a fascinating exploration of ongoing debates/tensions between Marion Zimmer Bradley and Russ, which became far more congenial the more that the two women learned about each other. Then there’s some rather fascinatingly frustrated exchanges between Russ and Poul Anderson, which caused her to complain about time-wasters with whom one ended up arguing with forever, thus distracting from one’s own writing:

He’s a nice man in a personal way but it’s hopeless; I feel like a rock climber at the 14,000-foot pass in the Rockies looking back through a telescope at an enthusiastic amateur in the Flatirons… who’s proceeding Eastward, yelling “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! The mountains are this way!” (On Joanna Russ p. 61)

All in all, this is my favourite essay so far – the Wolfe one on Alyx was definitely useful to me in reading Russ, but Merrick’s has all the gossip and may well be something I comb for quotes many times in the future. I’m ridiculously excited now about reading Merrick’s The Secret Feminist Cabal which is sitting on my To Read shelf, but not yet, not yet.

More Joanna Russ! Further in, further in.

Quotas vs. Outreach

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Sean Wallace of Fantasy Magazine puts the myth to bed that Fantasy uses a quota system to get a better balance of female authors.

I’ve been one of those who repeated the myth, usually in trying to show people why a quota system would not be such a bad thing, and I’d like to apologise for contributing to the misrepresentation of how that magazine chooses their stories. It was an honest misunderstanding!

Having said that, it’s worth reading Sean’s post and what he has to say about how Fantasy does acquire female authors, a distinction made between ‘quota’ and ‘outreach’. It’s a really elegant way of explaining the process that I know many other editors and publishers also use, in order to present better representation in their publications.

Writing While The House is Messy

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

There are people who at times express surprise at how much I manage to do. Looking after a small baby, a school-age daughter, writing books, blogging, running a small business, etc. Sometimes they ask my secret, and I say ‘well, I’m a really bad housewife.’

Jeff VanderMeer has cued up a discussion on women, writing, guilt, and domestic responsibility, both at the Booklife blog and on his own (the really good comments so far are on his own blog). Rachel Swirsky also comments on the issue at her own blog.

I’ve commented over on Jeff’s blog about my experience as the stay-at-home-parent-who-writes, and I know how lucky I am to have a partner who sees my writing as an investment in our future rather than something which takes away from time I should be spending on, you know, vacuuming. I’m sure he would prefer I spent a touch more time vacuuming, since we bought the robot vacuum cleaner and all, but he has always been remarkably non-judgemental about the whole thing, and shared the chores.

There are so many potential issues/problems/complications tangled up in the concepts of Guilt and Motherhood, Guilt and Writing Time, Balancing Paid Work and Writing, Balancing Unpaid Work and Writing, that I think it’s impossible for any person to sum it up in an all-encompassing way. I always find it interesting to read other people’s stories about how they handle that difficult balance, though, and how they deal with their own expectations, and the expectations of others, which often have a lot to do with gender.

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Hoping to Understand Joanna Russ (Part I)

Friday, January 8th, 2010

One of my projects for this year was to educate myself about Joanna Russ, a major figure in the history of feminist SF. I have read quite a lot about her, but very little of her actual work.

I started with On Joanna Russ, edited by Farah Mendlesohn, and only a few essays in, I’m thoroughly mesmerised. At the same time, I ordered a pile of paperbacks, including The Adventures of Alyx and How to Suppress Women’s Writing.

I read the first story of the Alyx collection, “Bluestocking,” immediately upon reading the first essay of the Mendlesohn book, “Alyx among the genres” by Gary K Wolfe. All very meta, but I enjoyed the experience very much. I was surprised to discover that Alyx is not, as I thought, another of those Jirel of Joiry types (glamorous swordswomen on horseback) but is instead more of a trickster character – small, unassuming, with more in common with the Grey Mouser or the noir private detectives than with the pulp fiction glamazons.

Even more interesting, according to Wolfe, the stories get more meta the deeper in you get to them, and move from heroic adventure through to planetary romance: in other words, from fantasy to science fiction. Also, Alyx’s stories often revolve around other women: the first one has her playing bodyguard/mentor to a fluffy redhead, and having quite an effect on her. The ending bemused me, and entertained me, and I’m still thinking about the story days later. Considering how many stories I read a year for LSS, that’s quite an achievement.

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