Being most excellent people, they said, “We want someone to do a column looking at the genre from a feminist perspective!”
Now, I haven’t the slightest idea — not the slightest, I tell you — why they thought I’d be a good fit for the job. Cranky young feminists (such as your not-so-humble correspondent) aren’t renowned for our impartial objectivity. We’re too hysterical. We overreact with terrible amounts of outrage, simply terrible, at the slightest suggestion that our primary value is our sexual attractiveness. We have no sense of humour and can’t take a joke. We (oh horrors) use words not appropriate for genteel company. Right-thinking websites leave feminist critique to the boys.*
*Please apply snark tags as appropriate.
Have I missed anything? If I have, I’m sure someone will be along to fill it in later. This being the internet, we can count on that.
I’ve been thinking about the format of this column a lot, since the possibility of writing it was first mooted. I said to myself, “Self, there are a lot of people out there doing genre criticism from a feminist perspective. Look at Sarah Lefanu and Cynthia Ward, Aqueduct Press and The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Brit Mandelo and Catherynne Valente and Jim Hines and many more. Two-thirds (or more) of the women authors you read write and blog with an implicit or explicit feminist understanding of the world. So do some of the men. How do you add to this conversation without covering the same ground as all these other people?”
Much head-scratching followed. Eventually, it struck me: I could do a lot worse than to borrow a leaf from the Best Fancast Hugo-nominated SF Squeecast’s book, with its “vague” (yet entertainingly relentless)“positivity.”
I want to find things to be relentlessly positive about. But when we’re talking criticism — and we are — it’d be dishonest to only look to the good, and ignore the bad and the ugly. And, ladies and gentlemen, when a male author can declare himself a feminist and see no cognitive dissonance in writing
“Now what I’m always interested in all my books is the reader, their moral sensibilities and their biological drives (among other things). I always assume this reader is male,” [source*]
*A friend of mine set me that link. She wants to make me cry, I think.
or when a woman writing for a major videogame franchise receives death threats and sexual harassment (Warning: quotes gendered abuse and body-shaming language) for being seen to support greater inclusiveness in games, or when the 2011 SF Count shows that men get disproportionately more critical attention, there’s still an awful lot of ugly out there.
This column has a goal. It’s going to keep women front and centre.
Never fear, boys: I like you too, but if you want to play, I recommend you go read Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog, Shakesville’s “Feminism 101,” particularly this one, and have a skim through the Geek Feminism wiki first. People have put a lot of work into analysing the factors that reinforce and perpetuate institutional sexism. Whether or not you agree with those analyses, I’m disinclined to repeat them regularly. Go! Read!
So, what can you expect from me and this column, which we’re calling “Sleeps With Monsters”? I mean, really?
You can expect me to look at the successes and failures of media in terms of portraying women. You can expect me to occasionally mention videogames. You can expect me to touch on the history of women in the genre, riffing off the SF Mistressworks project. You can expect me to highlight discussions about women and genre in the blogosphere — if your not-so-humble correspondent fails to miss them. You can expect me to look at recurring tropes that turn up in genre, often to our detriment. And you can expect me to pop up, yelling, “Feminism WOO YAY!” once or twice a month. (Like a bad penny.)
And in order to maintain a reasonable positivity quotient, you can expect me to spend most of my time highlighting new books by women authors, and talking about women authors’ backlists. Because that’s how cranky feminists roll, friends.
Be on the lookout for posts featuring the oeuvre of Mary Gentle, Karen Miller, Sherwood Smith, Kate Elliott, and many others coming soon to a Tor.com near you.
(Subjects may be armed and are almost certainly dangerous.)
Find Liz Bourke @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.