May 8 2012 11:00am

Sleeps With Monsters: Failure to Communicate (An Ongoing Problem)

The nice people here at Tor.com have invited me to contribute a semi-regular column.

Being most excellent people, they said, “We want someone to do a column looking at the genre from a feminist perspective!”

Who, me?

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.

Alex MacFarlane
1. alexdallymacfarlane
And you can expect me to pop up, yelling, “Feminism WOO YAY!” once or twice a month.

WOO YAY! I'm looking forward to seeing where you take this column.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
Sheesh, like my to-read list wasn't already long enough...

(By which I mean: WOO YAY!)
Evan Langlinais
5. Skwid
An excellent addition to Tor.com's content, it sounds like. Looking forward to more!
Jane's Folly
7. Jane's Folly
Feminism, woo yay! Do the three R's: representation, respect and recon... or is that reveiw?
Scott Silver
8. hihosilver28
Thanks for the feminism links. Good food for thought and nice to have an internet compendium.
Jane's Folly
9. R. Scott
And targeting male readers is 'bad' because? Especially when the work is obviously critical instead of apologetic.
Jane's Folly
10. arkessian
Sounds like this will be good. I'll be here, reading along.
Liz Bourke
11. hawkwing-lb
@R. Scott:

In this particular case, the point, thar miss't. Please go read the linked resources and return when you are prepared to talk about women and their perspectives, preferably with enthusiasm comparable to the SF Squeecast.

@everyone else:

I'm honoured by your enthusiasm and hope to live up to it. :)
Jenny Kristine
12. jennygadget

tsk tsk - lacking objectivity already are we? :p


Also, add me to the list of people who reacted to this news with "WOOHOO!"
Jane's Folly
13. JoeNotCharles
Huh, 9. Better than I expected! I thought it would be 3 or so.
Liz Bourke
14. hawkwing-lb

Moi, pas objective? Mais c'est impossible!

Kathleen B
15. stampeyb
Yay! I am very excited about this news, and I will be a devoted reader!
thanks Liz and Tor.com!
Mordicai Knode
16. mordicai
13. JoeNotCharles

Seriously, nine is pretty good!
Jane's Folly
17. R. Scott
Fraid I did the 101 thing (and much more aside) many moons ago. You linked my blog as an example of the things you are against, and so I'm here attempting to understand what it is you are against...

Certainly not a man problematizing gender issues for other men!

I am missing your point, which is why I'm asking.
Jane's Folly
18. atheilen
@Liz: Very much looking forward to the column

@R. Scott: Liz and others have elaborated, at length and in several venues, about what it is they find objectionable about your perspective. You are of course free to disagree, and presumably welcome to comment on the column. But your question has been answered. (Note that an answer you don't like or agree with is still an answer.) No one is trying to stop you doing what you're doing; this column is about works that are doing something else.

I will note, however, that while I don't think there's anything wrong with aiming your work at a predominantly male audience, your comments about always assuming a male reader were alienating to me, as a female reader who enjoyed your first trilogy while still finding some of the gender issues problematic. I had hoped that some of the gender issues that have been pointed out might be critiqued in the next installments; your comments here and elsewhere make me assume that they are not, which makes me less inclined to pick up the next books. Since you are patently not writing for me, I'd much rather read the sort of books Liz will highlight in her column.
Jane's Folly
19. C.W. Atkins
Hooray for another internet echochamber. And one with required reading in order to participate, at that.
I know you're trying to be inclusive and all (/snark), but I'm not sure this series is going to be for me. Fine, not everything should be, right? I wish you best of luck and hope everyone enjoys your work.
Liz Bourke
20. hawkwing-lb
@R. Scott:

Ah, you're that R. Scott. One doesn't like to assume, or one would assume you are here not in an attempt to understand, but in an attempt to make it All About You. It's not. You made a statement. It is full of cognitive dissonance, which has been pointed out. The cognitive dissonance is itself representative of an ugly and disappointing cultural koine, said koine having been discussed at length elsewhere, including at Shakesville (which is really not 101, but several levels of discourse higher).

One does not propose to spend much of one's time illuminating a point which you demonstratedly do not grok, since that would derail a conversation whose stated goal is to enthusiastically advocate, discuss, and represent women's voices and women's experiences in and with the genre.

Women, R. Scott. Women, who are far too often dismissed, relegated to the sidelines, and repeatedly bashed over the head in many subtle ways with their lack of importance in public spaces and public discourse. Whose voices dominate critical discourse without and within the SFF genre? Who writes books which dominate award lists and nominations?

Every time someone says "But men are my audience, my only audience" - as a corollory implying, once more, that men are the only important and worthwhile audience - a feminist fairy dies.

So you don't want to talk here about women's writing and women's voices. Fair enough. Don't expect me to reply to your voice any further in this thread, though: life is short, and I've other things to do than repeat what others have already said.
Jane's Folly
21. Ronan Wills
@R. Scott: If so many actual women keep telling you your books *are* apologetic and not critical, maybe you should consider the idea that they're right.
Jane's Folly
22. Saajan Patel
I realize criticism is not necessarily the priority, nor is Bakker necessarily the top of your planned criticisms, but I do think there would be much that could be gained critiquing the stuff Scott and other others are trying to do.

I do think what he's trying to do is simultanesously interesting AND in need of fleshed out criticism.
Liz Bourke
23. hawkwing-lb
@Saajan Patel:

Not my job. I'm the WOO YAY company. I'd rather do my criticism with affection.
Jenny Kristine
24. jennygadget
"Every time someone says "But men are my audience, my only audience" ... a feminist fairy dies."

Now I am curious what action people can take to save the feminsist fairies that are dying. :p
Jane's Folly
25. Saajan Patel
I thought you were going to criticize works in genre as well?

I ask because I think there's a difference between, "I write for males and don't care about women." versus "The purpose of my works is to hold a conversation with the male reader, who by definition holds some stake in a patriarchal society."

I've criticized Bakker's works in many, many places, but I think it's the latter that he was saying, in reply to me when I criticized him on his blog. This might still be problematic, but it would seem necessary that one must have dialogue with the privileged?

As a person of color, I think talking to me about not white people only works so much.

On the other side, a person with class/gender/hetero privileges, I find works that help me correct assumptions/prejudices very valuable. I realize, and to an extent believe, Scott has failed to successfully have this dialogue with the male reader but I think his attempting to reach those males who are unconcerned with feminism at all (the global majority?) does have merit.
Jane's Folly
26. Cain S. Latrani
@R. Scott ~ I always thought that, as a writer, the idea was to appel to an entire audience, not just half of one. Women read too, dude. What's wrong with writing things that they might actually identify with? Or better yet, casting them as the lead and hero?

Please note, I'm not saying I can write with a womans voice. I really doubt I can. But I most certainly do put my female characters up as being every bit as capable as the men. Doing less is just stupid.
Liz Bourke
27. hawkwing-lb
@Saajan Patel:

I'll critique - I have honesty and intellectual rigour to consider, after all! - but only stuff I enjoy reading or watching or playing to start with. I'm not going to read things I've bounced off, hard, in the past just for the sake of having things to critique: it's a big genre, there's lots of stuff in it, and none of it - not even the stuff I get really fannish over - is perfect.

I'm not talking just to women, here. But I'm hoping to support a conversation that prioritises people who aren't straight men.
Jane's Folly
28. Saajan Patel
Understood - Thanks for the clarification!

I look forward to your column, and am enjoying the 101 links.
Bruce Cohen
29. SpeakerToManagers
Looking forward to your writings here, especially on the history of women in the genre. I've read works by many women, but I'm sure I've missed some, maybe a lot. And what better way to learn more about what women have to say than by reading what they say?
Jane's Folly
33. Lilla
I'm really looking forward to this too!

@20 What does 'koine' mean in this context? The dictionary tells me it's a Greek dialect and a search on Shakesville turned up nothing. Thanks.
Mordicai Knode
34. mordicai
33. Lilla

I thought maybe an alternative romanization of "koan"?
Liz Bourke
35. hawkwing-lb

Koine is a Greek word meaning common. In my subdiscipline it's used to refer to... well, I've just spent all day on a plane, so my head is not so good for explanations, but sort of a cross between the zeitgeist and the totality of the entire culture. Commonality. Common, shared, agreed narratives.
Foz Meadows
36. Foz_Meadows
Woo to this column!

And behold my lack of shock that Bakker showed up in person. A similar thing happened on my blog the other week; fortunately, I'd been warned he'd most likely make an appearance, and so was prepared for it. At this point, he's pretty much taken on the characteristics of an old-school demon: specifically, that saying his name summons him.
Jane's Folly
37. michelnita
Sounds promising. I look forward to your column. A fresh approach is much needed.

The internet being the internet I shouldn't be surprised that more and more people simply harp on and on piling on Bakker without caring about context or intent. Sad.
Jane's Folly
38. omega_n
Another in the WOO YAY! camp here. :-D I'll read every post with a notepad to hand so I can add to my reading list.
Jane's Folly
39. TansyRR

I like the sound of this column and it's lovely to see Tor.com (who already have published some great feminist material) wanting to do more.

I look forward to you writing about whatever you want to!
Jane's Folly
40. DivaDiane
WOO YAY from me too! Really looking forward to this, hoping I don't miss the posts.... And thanks Tor.com for bringing this into being!
Jane's Folly
41. wondering
Yet more WOO YAY.

And you can thank #13 for pushing me to post instead of just lurking.
Jane's Folly
43. Origami Isopod
It's unfortunate that you're relying on Shakesville, which has degenerated in the last four years into a cult, to inform your readers.
Jane's Folly
44. HelenS
*shrug* Well, à chacun son goût. I've been reading Shakesville for more than four years (yeah, it must have been, because I started before the last presidential election), and it seems to me to have only expanded and gotten more interesting in that time.
Jane's Folly
49. unknownuzer
this column sounds like a great idea. looking forward to some interesting posts and (hopefully) some insightful discussions.
Cait Glasson
50. CaitieCat
I must have missed this column, and I'm sad I did, because I love that tor.com is putting up some feminist space to focus on women in sf. Brava, lb, and thanks for taking it on. I'm really looking forward to more of your work here, and also trawling through the links you posted for additions to my own blogroll.

Cause, yeah, I need more blogs to read. Urk. But yay, too!

Re: Shakesville I will say nothing, having a rather obvious partisan connection, save that it's nice to see the place mentioned in other places I also like.
Jane's Folly
51. magnolia wind
I don't think you do Mr Bakker's post much justice with that quotation. That exact same short quote from a long post appeared on a lot of blogs. That makes me sad .It feels more like people should all be on the same page thinking the same way , rather than having a conversation. Which is ironic considering how often a conflict over agency and the ability to act as an individual appears in Mr Bakker's writing. That's my feeling anyway.

Fair enough your article isn't all about Mr Bakker but you made the quote.

Joy Gillingham
52. MovieLovingBookworm
I remember looking at video games at one of those goods sales in a large tin building at the state fair grounds and overhearing the assumption from the sales representative that I was a 'tomboy' because I liked playing video games in my spare time. Not good at coming up with witty comebacks on the spot, I stayed silent. But, I couldn't help but be surprised at being thought of as a 'tomboy', since I didn't like playing sports, had no interest in guns, and didn't have many male friends.
Joy Gillingham
53. MovieLovingBookworm
At the same time, I wasn't a 'girlie girl' who spent hours shopping for clothes, putting on make-up or gossiping about how hot boys looked. I was and still am a quiet, movie loving bookworm, like my username announces.

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