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Other People's Books

Representation matters, part 2

Dara’s just put up an excellent post on the topic of how even progressive, liberal people can commit unintentional acts of sexism in their creative work. She’s responding to the question brought to her by a male comics artist who was told his mostly male cast is sexist, despite the political tone of his work leaning to the left. He wanted to know what Dara thought. Picosummary: Dara says the woman who told him that is right, actually.

Go click over to what Dara has to say, won’t you? And to her words I’d like to add: yes, as with race or with sexual orientation, representation in gender matters too. Especially in our storytelling.

As you all know, I read. A lot. But if you take a peek at the titles that’ve been on my reported reading lists for the last couple of years, you’ll probably notice a thing: the majority of novels I read are written by women. Someone who doesn’t know me might immediately conclude that “oh well Anna, she’s a girl, of course she wants to read girly books like romance or chick lit with girly things in them! Like FEELINGS!”

And if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Most of the authors I read being female boils down to something much more simple: female authors are way more likely to give me a cast of characters with more than a single token female character. You’ve heard about the Bechdel test, right? Y’know, how in order to pass that test, a story needs to have more than one woman, and they need to talk to each other, about something that isn’t a man?

Kinda funny how I find this a lot more often in books written by women. And by funny, I mean frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, there are shining exceptions to this tendency in my library–Jim Hines comes immediately to mind, with his Princess series. And while I have several more excellent male authors in my library as well, I genuinely have to wrack my brains to think of any others who’ve managed to pull this off.

Even if a book doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, at minimum, I like to see women in lead roles. And I’m not just talking romance, either, though I am a documented romantic sucker. Nor am I talking the now-stereotypical “strong female character” that’s usually shorthand for “woman who has more sarcasm than sense and solves all her problems by hitting them with weaponry”–though in the right hands, I like this, too. But give me women who are leaders among their people, whether human, elven, dwarven, or whatever other species they might happen to be. Give me women who are heroes, women who are mages, women who go on quests and get to save the world.

Give me women who are scientists, and who do actual science, as opposed to just parading around a book wearing glasses because that’s shorthand for “this character is smart”. I want to see that woman being smart. Bonus points if a woman wearing glasses at no point is ever thought to be prettier without her glasses.

Give me women who are superheroes. Give me Wonder Woman, goddammit–and a Wonder Woman who is defined by more than just “she’s got superpowers so she gets to be Superman’s girlfriend now”.

Give me secondary female characters who are in positions of power, and who are there to do more than just encourage the female lead in whatever relationship the plot’s setting up for her. Give me hunters and scouts and healers and fire-mages and queens and priestesses. Give me starship captains.

Give me a series who does any of these, and I’ll be giving that series my money, support, and reading time and love.

Representation matters.

ETA: I’m already starting to get a couple of recommendations from folks about male authors who’ve written female lead characters. That’s awesome, but it’s also not the point of this post. Like I said, I’ve gotten several excellent male authors in my library. A couple of them have in fact written good strong female lead characters. But male authors who’ve got not only female lead characters but also a good representation of females in their cast in general are harder to come by.

I find it problematic for some urban fantasy or paranormal romance written by women, too, for the record. One of the biggest problems I have with some long-running urban fantasy series is the dearth of female characters in them other than the leads, and how a lot of the time, the only other women who show up are there to be bitchy to the heroine, or to be romantic rivals.

And really, y’all, I ain’t hurting for books to read right now. You DO know I’ve got over 1,100 books on my To Read list, right? 😉

ETA #2: And while I’m on the topic, it’s worth noting that the book I’m reading right now, i.e., the excellent The Hum and the Shiver, is a) written by a guy, i.e., Alex Bledsoe, and b) does indeed pass the Bechdel at least twice so far, and that’s with having two other notable female characters interacting with the heroine.

So yeah, trust me, I’m paying attention on this, guys. Also: really digging The Hum and the Shiver.

ETA #3: And OH HEY well this is timely to my post, now isn’t it? The Mary Sue has a piece up now about the need for female villains. They are correct. Powerful female villains are just as important as female protagonists!

Movies, The Internet

Post-vacation link roundup

Here’s a fun thing I apparently missed while I was on vacation: some nimrod made a “SFWA Fascists” Twitter account attacking the various notable SF/F authors who have been speaking out against racism and sexism–in other words, the people who are speaking up for treating everybody like people. Names like Scalzi and Kowal and Hines and Jemisin are on the list, and others have started calling this the roundup of People You Should Be Following On Twitter. Props to them!

And the maddest of mad props to Mr. Hines, who, being awesome, has responded beautifully.


In other news, The Mary Sue has reported that Lionsgate is scrambling to distance themselves from Orson Scott Card. They’re even going to host a LGBT benefit premiere for the movie.

How nice for them. I’m still not going to see the movie.

I’ve seen quite a few people opining that to specifically avoid seeing this movie because of Card is ill-advised, on the grounds that Card probably wasn’t even involved once his rights were optioned, and also because boycotting it would hurt the pro-LGBT people at Lionsgate and who have worked on the film. I don’t buy it, and I remain pretty damned sure that not one person, from Harrison Ford clear down to the catering staff, is going to be financially harmed by my failure to buy a ticket. They’ve gotten paychecks. They’re not going to starve.

I’ve also seen people opining that there are way better ways to assert one’s support of LGBT causes than by inaction–i.e., not seeing a movie. I don’t buy that either. For one thing, speaking up publicly about why you choose to not do a thing is itself an action. For another thing, it is inappropriate to assume that people avoiding the movie aren’t doing other, more active things in support of LGBT rights. Like, say, donating money, which Dara and I have done on a rather regular basis.


Meanwhile, in other news of Movies I Am Specifically Avoiding This Summer, I’d also like to call out this excellent little commentary as to why exactly Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan in the current Trek flick is problematic.

(Yes, I’ve heard the criticism pointing out that casting Montalban to play a Sikh in the original series wasn’t exactly ethnically appropriate either. But moving from that to casting a white guy was not, in my humble opinion, a step in the right direction.)


However, to shift over to news of Movies I’m Feeling a Lot More Hopeful About, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Despicable Me 2 and Pacific Rim as soon as possible. And I shall direct you post-haste over to who provides this helpful guide to Knowing Your Kaiju.

Because it is critical, CRITICAL I SAY, to know which monster is about to stomp your city into rubble.


A few things make a post

Let’s lead this post off with a couple of general reminders:

First off, the giveaway for Valor of the Healer is still in progress and running until Friday! As of this writing I have only six entrants, so your chances are really, really good at a shot at one of the two free copies I’ll be handing out. Nobody’s cleared the bar to get in on the draw for the audiobook yet, but there’s still time!

ALSO: I have a coupon for Faerie Blood live on Smashwords through Friday as well. Since Smashwords is the only place I can easily set up coupon codes, this doesn’t apply to any other place you can buy the book from, sorry! BUT, if you buy Faerie Blood directly from me any time this week I’ll apply the same 20% discount to the usual $2.99 price. I’ll also do so if you want one of my remaining print editions! So act fast!


Next item!

Seriously, how much of an asshole do you have to be to steal the violin from Olivier Demers?

Y’all know that name around here by now, folks. Violin player for Le Vent du Nord. I follow him on Facebook. This past weekend the Quebec trad music community had a music festival, Chant de Vielles, and to all reports it went swimmingly. Except for the part where somebody walked off with M. Demers’ violin.

Y’all may also remember that I’ve posted before about what it feels like to lose a beloved instrument. Dara can certainly tell you all about that. So believe me when I tell you that it’s a kick in the teeth. And that somebody has seen fit to steal the fiddle that makes beautiful noises like this and this and especially this… well. Treebeard’s quote from The Two Towers comes to mind: “There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for this treachery.”

And I’m just sayin’, people, my spouse is a supervillain. I have heat ray access.


Speaking of Treebeard or at least of things Tolkienish, if you haven’t seen it yet, I did put up Chapter 13 of the Trilingual Hobbit Reread last night!

Also, I put up part 5 of the series of posts on self-publishing.


And that clown car of FAIL re: sexism in publishing (with or without SFWA being involved) has yielded up another clown. My last report of Foz Meadows’ relaying how Jo Fletcher Books had taken down Rod Rees’ post and the followup to same turned out to be premature, since the posts came back up.

Turns out the second one was all about the author’s freedom of speech. Which, um, nobody was actually calling into question.

This being yet another example of people failing to remember that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from people calling you out for being an idiot or an asshole. You’re free to spout off whatever nonsense you like, yes. But the rest of us are free to call it nonsense.

That said, the clown car is thankfully being paced by the Mach Five of WIN. Discussion is ongoing as well about the big, big issue of harassment at cons. My own Dara has chimed in on the matter over here, talking about her experiences with harassment and pointing off to a couple other excellent posts of testimony on the matter, including one from filker Brooke Abbey.

And in a case of someone knowing how to use his position of privilege for Good, John Scalzi has announced his new policy for deciding what conventions he’ll go to. Spoiler alert: he expects them to have clear harassment policies in place. Thank you, sir. This is an excellent move.


ETA: And OH YES I almost forgot. userinfospazzkat came up with an excellent term for the ongoing brouhaha in SF/F, and the Internet’s reaction to same: SFWAdenfreude. My immediate reaction: NEW HASHTAG! Use at will, folks!

ETA #2: THIS JUST IN: Mary Robinette Kowal, hallowed be her name, has had ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT. *wild applause* I feel a buy of all of her ebooks coming on RIGHT NOW. >:D

ETA #3: And because at this point you really do need a scorecard to keep track of all the clowns pouring out of the car, here, have a thoughtfully compiled timeline of all the events that have been going on so far this year.


Yet more SFWA fail, and I am out of words

So, um, yeah, this has shown up on tumblr, and lo, the Internets, they are asploding all over again. Basically, someone’s seen fit to grab screencaps of posts on the recent SFWA controveries–specifically re: Day/Beale’s rephrensible behavior towards N.K. Jemisin, as well as Jemisin’s GoH speech.

Dara’s breaking out the popcorn over here, with an example of one of these screencaps she’s finding particularly telling. Me, I’m not even sure where to begin on the metric boatloads of FAIL all over those screencaps, and make no mistake, there’s a LOT of fail being quoted there. Nor am I surprised that whoever put up the tumblr is choosing to be anonymous, while–inevitably!–getting snarked on anonymously for doing so.

Folks, I’m really past the point of anger on this or even indignation. I’m just standing back agape at the number of clowns that keep coming out of this clown car made of FAIL.


And meanwhile, re: the last post I did about ongoing sexism in SF/F, there’s a followup to that, too!

Foz Meadows has reported that Jo Fletcher books has removed Rod Rees’ post from their site, as well as a followup post they did to try to explain why it went up in the first place. She has commentary on why burying the evidence, especially when that particular furor went up at the same time a bunch of posts about harassment at conventions did, was an especially bad idea.


And it’s only Monday, people. This is shaping up to be a long week. Somehow I’m not surprised, either, that Scalzi’s now backing off from this as fast as he possibly can.


This week in SF/F: sexual harassment and ongoing sexism

Surfacing from my day job being exhausting this week to find that while I’ve been distracted, the SF/F genre is continuing to be exhausting as well.

Some of today’s high level of activity is extremely necessary and valuable conversation about what to do if you’re the target of sexual harassment at conventions. I’ve seen a guest post from Elise Matthesen go up on John Scalzi’s site here and on Seanan McGuire’s LJ here. Cherie Priest has chimed in here.

And I’m seeing a lot of activity over Twitter, including naming of the individual that Matthesen reported. I applaud her for her speaking up, and all those who are speaking up in support of her as well. Because yeah, reporting this kind of thing takes a lot of bravery. I’ve been there and I’ve done that. It’s exhausting and it can have ramifications that impact you for the rest of your life.

Hand in hand with this I’m also seeing a lot of furor over a particular author’s being up in arms as to why women are criticizing him for having his female characters admiring their own breasts in a mirror. Foz Meadows pretty much says everything I can think of to say on the matter, right over here. Tricia Sullivan speaks up over here. And James Nicoll and his regular readers have all sorts of pithy commentary over here.

Here’s what I can think to add.

During my days on the various MUSHes I played, nineteen times out of twenty, you could tell when a female character was being played by a male player–because she’d be the character spending most of her @desc on the size of her breasts and her other sexual attributes. These were classic examples of the male gaze being applied to the character, presumably without the player even thinking about whether other people interacting with that character might in fact not be heterosexual males.

For the record: speaking as a female reader here, yo, male writers of the world? If I see you arguing with your female readers about how you know more about what women would plausibly do than they do, you’re going to guarantee I’ll never read a word you write in your life.

And speaking particularly as a breast cancer survivor, I’m here to tell you: you know what I’m really, really not interested in? Multiple paragraphs of a female character ogling her own breasts. You want to know what thought processes I usually have about mine, these days? Let me give you a sampling.

“What bra can I wear to hide my scars?”

“How much acetaminophen do I have to have today to make the muscles all around my rib cage stop bitching at me?”

“Is this going to be a day where I can lean over to the right without pain?”

“Can I even begin to think about wearing a swimsuit this summer?”

Somehow, I ain’t holding my breath that this is going to show up in a commercially published SF/F novel any time soon.

The Internet

And now, this week in rape culture–and speaking out against it

A lot of you may have seen the explosions going around the Net about a Kickstarter that got funded in the last couple days, one based around a guide to getting women that is pretty much promotes trampling all over consent. That, yes, pretty much is a step-by-step manual for how to rape a woman. The guide’s described in quite a few places, but I’ll point you over to the article about it on The Mary Sue, which provides a few telling screenshots and gets into discussing what this means for Kickstarter’s overall policies for what projects it will and will not allow.

(For obvious reasons, before you click over, especially before you go looking for the actual project page, trigger warning for deeply sexist, rape-promoting douchebaggery. I’m not linking to the project.)

I’d just like to state categorically and for the record that if Kickstarter can’t commit to saying that yes, this project does in fact violate its guidelines, that it actively promotes harm to women, then the next crowdfund project I run–likely to be for Book 3 of The Free Court of Seattle, once I finish squaring away Rebels of Adalonia as well as all pending rewards due to the patiently waiting supporters of my first project–will be either on IndieGogo or Peerbackers.

Because this shit is NOT OKAY. I’m disgusted that Kickstarter let the project onto their site to begin with, and even more disgusted that apparently it found enough backers to make well over its target goal.

I don’t want to leave you with that rancid taste in your mouths, Internets, so here, have another link: Jim Hines laying out exactly what rape culture is in his own response to this mess. To which I’ll add: yes, exactly what he said.

ETA 6/21/2013: userinfoariaflame has just brought to my attention that Kickstarter has owned up to their being wrong, and have issued an excellent apology on the matter. Moreover, they are donating to RAINN. I would like to publicly thank Kickstarter for doing this, as this goes a long way to restoring my faith in them.