Tue
Jul 17 2012 11:00am

Sleeps With Monsters: The Smurfette Principle (We Can Do Better)

I take my role as part of the WOO YAY brigade seriously. Sometimes that means going out of my way to look at context for potentially troubling things in a sympathetic light. Sometimes it means concentrating on the pros, and passing lightly over the cons. The perfect is, after all, the enemy of the making good progress.

But sometimes criticism is necessary. I’ve been chewing something over in my head for a couple of months, ever since I came home on a bright afternoon from pouring over papers in a library to find two items side-by-side on my RSS feed: Kate Elliott on “Looking for women in historically-based fantasy worlds” and Foz Meadows on “The Problem of R. Scott Bakker.”

If you don’t remember them, or never read them, go and read them now. It won’t take long.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Elliott is talking about ways to include female personalities in traditionally male narratives, to consider how women have active roles in the world, even when those roles are constrained by social and/or cultural factors. Bakker, in the original comments which Foz Meadows quotes, as well as in the comments to her post, appears to be making the argument that female free agency in chauvinistic worlds is a mirage.

“I always assume [my] reader is male. As a male, I know the ways of the male gaze…”*

“[This book] caters to the pornographic sensibilities of men to shake them up, to twist and to problematize. Genre is all about giving readers what they want.”

*And white people understand racism, and straight people understand anti-queer prejudice, and the top 1% of rich people understand the experience of the poor. As you might have guessed, I’m a bit dubious about that statement. Understanding from the point of view of the perpetrator — from the point of view of the subject of the male gaze is qualitatively different from understanding the point of view of the object of said gaze.

I’m not using R. Scott Bakker as an example just to pick on an easy target, but because he’s said directly on the internet what’s implied in the text of more than one genre novel: women are secondary. In fact, sometimes they’re so secondary, they’re hardly there at all (Prince of Thorns, Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure, The Left Hand of God, The Blade Itself, The Lord of the Rings). Sometimes there’s only one of them. TV Tropes knows this as the Smurfette Principle, but we could call it “the Black Widow Problem” after The Avengers, or “the Mistborn Problem,” if we wanted to. And even when we put more than one woman in the text, our grand wee genre still has a bit of a problem with Frank Miller Feminism. (As witness the aggressively sexualised framing of women in the television production of medievalesque soap-opera Game of Thrones.)

Despite the present flourishing of genre works with fully-rounded women in starring roles — written by Karen Lord, Kameron Hurley, Jim Hines, Elizabeth Bear, Kate Elliott, Sherwood Smith, Jacqueline Carey, Rae Carson, Amanda Downum, Leah Bobet, N.K. Jemisin, Michelle Sagara, among many others — there remains a pervasive trend, in conversations and spaces which are not majority-female, to treat woman as other, as disposable, and as consumable.

This is a trend which exists outside of genre as well, of course. But the SFF genre is not immune to it: despite sci-fi/fantasy fandom’s tendency to see ourselves as Smarter Better People, we absorb the narratives of the culture that surrounds us, and suffer from the same blindness to our own privileges, to recognising that our “innate and inalterable” ways of thinking are formed by a process of acculturation. The culture we move through is still immensely sexist and racist, and its institutions shape our attitudes and behaviours even when we ourselves do not think of ourselves as either. Witness, from some time ago, Emily Asher-Perrin’s “Hey, Everyone - Stop Taking This Picture!” in the comments to which commenter after commenter repeated some variant of “But sex sells!” without acknowledging that what they were talking about wasn’t sex, per se, but the fact that a particular view of women’s bodies is almost universally constructed as signifying sex.

(Mind you, the confusion of sex and women goes way back. Nineteen-year-old Isaac Asimov reduced the presence of women in stories to love interests all the way back in the late 1930s. The confusion has gotten slightly less in the years since, but really, far from enough less.)

See that often enough, and it gets a little tiring.

The Smurfette Problem, and the narrative of women in fear and pain which our genre has this bad habit of contributing to — not as much as primetime crime drama, but certainly enough — isn’t good for women.

It’s not good for men, either: it contributes to the normalisation of things that a) aren’t (or shouldn’t** be) normal and b) aren’t okay. Recently, Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a piece criticising the new Tomb Raider videogame, after it was revealed that Lara Croft’s badassery comes about as a result of rape/attempted rape.*** In a follow-up post, she addressed herself to two of her (male) commenters who admitted that the inclusion of the main character’s rape was a plus for them.

**I’m taking the ethical stand here that women are people too, and that failing to give female characters at least as much thought as male ones is being part of the problem. Also, hey, if you’re going to sexualise dead bodies, let’s have some sexy male corpses, too. I’m just saying. Necrophilia: it’s not just for men.

***Do I really have to point out how much this is fucked up? Surviving sexual assault doesn’t make you a superhero. (Be a radically different world if it did.) It makes you a survivor of sexual assault. Making it a trigger for badassery is lazy and exploitative and.... hell, Jim Hines said it already.

Men who push back loudly against this sort of thing are few and far between, and women who criticise things beloved of the geek tribe get tremendous amounts of crap for it: crap that’s gendered in a way that male criticism isn’t.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We don’t have to perpetuate thoughtlessness, insensitivity, exclusionism - and laziness - in our entertainment. So why do we?

I don’t know, not for sure. Sometimes I think we do it because we’re so immersed in rape culture and in the blindness of privilege that we can’t see the trees, the forest is so large. The countless thousand microaggressions deployed against people lower down the sliding scale of social power are so universal, we don’t even recognise them as anything other than normal, the way things are.

But SFF is all about making up new worlds and playing with them. We can do better.

I’d really like if we could do better.


Find Liz Bourke @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.

28 comments
Francesco Paonessa
1. ErrantKnave
Well said. I'm hopeful that a growing awareness of this problem will lead to better work in the next generation. Posts like this help.
stephanie keenan
2. adriel_moonstar
I expect that I am just enough older than you to think that the fact that people recognize the fact that this is a problem (and argue about it on the internet) is, in fact, making progress. Maybe not good progress, but it is moving in the right direction.

I grew up in the day when the only young adult SF was Tom Swift, and if you wanted real adventure/mystery you had to read the Hardy Boys instead of Nancy Drew. TV shows didn't portray women as victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, because that would mean admitting that such crimes actually existed. When I was in naval officer training (in the 1980's) men had to be tested for AIDS before receiving vaccinations, but women didn't. presumably because "nice" girls didn't have sex or do drugs.

So yes, please keep pointing out that we haven't come far enough, but YAY all the same.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
Being steeped in a culture makes it hard to see the assumptions, sometimes. I've noticed that when I'm writing, if I aim for a deliberately balanced gender representation in characters--pure, exact 50/50 for all named or mentioned characters--a part of my brain feels like the story is overwhelmed with women. I have to actually sit down and count and go, hm, no, it's 50/50, while a culturally indoctrinated part of my brain chants "But what about the men?"

And this is...as a woman. It's that far deep in my head. One of the reasons I like the Bechdel test is that any time my brain starts arguing that it's so unreasonable to expect a movie/show/book to pass it if the protagonist is male--because of course most conversations will either include or center on him--I just have to think of a story with a female protagonist. And how many times those stories manage to have two men talking about something other than a woman anyway.
Herb65
4. Herb65
Do you also take the position that YOU don't understand the plight of anyone different from you?
Herb65
5. C Kruger
First of all, I am so glad to see more and more discussion of women in SFF, as it is something that can easily be glossed over and ignored.

However, there is one point about Bakker's comments that I would like explained. I have read Bakker's original post, Meadow's discussion of it, and your response here, but you seem to take the idea of "man's gaze" in a very different way than I do. To be upfront about myself, I am a straight white male. I will happily acknowledge that I do not know what it is like to be the female subject of a male's gaze, just as I don't know what it is like to be a black victim of racism. However, this seems very different from saying that I don't know anything about the male gaze; I know what it is like be subject to male desires and to see things as a male. You point out that the experience of the subject of the male gaze is qualitatively different from the experience of the object of the male gaze. I agree, but I took Bakker to be saying that he understands what it is like to be the subject, making no claims to understand what it is like to be the object (here at least, he makes a number of other claims that are quite a bit more disturbing and less supportable).

Frankly, you seem to be saying a man cannot know what it is like to be a man. Igoring for the moment the incredibly depressing repercussions this would have for feminism if learning and growth is impossible, it seems like men are rather well equipped to understand what it is like to be a man. Admittedly, we are probably blind to many of the benefits we accrue simply by being male and are ignorant to many of the barriers others face, but it seems like denying men an understanding of what it is to be men would necessarily mean women also cannot understand what it means to be women. I feel I must have misunderstood what you are trying to say, and I would like to hear the other side, as I recognize my own bias in this matter.
Herb65
6. wcarter4
When it comes right down to it, I can barely stand to watch television anymore for exactly this reason. Women definitely have it worse, but both genders are constantly portrayed in stereotyped and unrealistic ways that damage our perceptions.

Sitcoms and comedies: the women are always either total bitches (especially little girls) or "the only sane member of the family" men are either bumbling idiots who couldn't possibly tie there own shoes or womanizing if not flat out evil.
Dramas: In dramas/action shows the men do all the real work and the women swoon over them. Alternatively in your crime drama/horror movie you might have the pure girl survive the onslaught of the evil male supernatural villian.
Commercials: I defy you to find a single household cleaning product commercial where the mother isn't doing all the housework just like Aunt Bee or an insurance commercial that portays a man with more maturity or intellagence than a small child. Everything else just shows half naked women for no discernable reason objectifying them and insulting the men they think will actually buy the products because of it.

Let's compare that to real life:
*60 percent of all college graduates are women. We're 20 years late showing them in active roles in the workplace.
*There are a lot of men who have been longterm unemployed. Quite a few of them do housework.
*I know plenty of female cops and detectives personally. They're good at it. They were guns not high heels.
*Violent crimes against women are a fact, even a cursory glance at FBI crime statistics will show you criminals usualyl go after precived victims of opportunity. BUT plenty of women are also capable defending themselves and unfortunitely, of committing violent crimes everybit as heinous as the ones men committ.

We need to stop putting up with tired and frankly insulting cookie cutter portrayals of both genders. Its past time for some new plots and storylines.
Liz Bourke
7. hawkwing-lb
@ErrantKnave, adriel_moonstar, and fadeaccompli:

I think we're getting better, definitely. But we still have a long way to go, and like fadeaccompli says, we're steeped in a culture that has a bunch of invidious assumptions. And I'd really like to see us *keep* getting better.

Which may lead to the tyranny of ever-higher expectations - but I think that's a rather benign tyranny, all things considered.

@Herb65:

That's the thing. I can't know what it's like. I can try to understand, by reading widely, listening to people who do know what it's like for them, engaging with various kinds of cultural, sociological and anthropological discourses, but my understanding will always be limited by my own experiences. No amount of imaginative empathy on my part is ultimately able to change that.

@C Kruger:

I don't want to make this all about Bakker. But I'll try to clarify, since what I'm trying to say is the phrase "I understand the male gaze" makes no distinction between subject and object, and is most frequently used to describe the way the object (women) is framed by the culturally dominant subject (here men). Whereas saying "I understand how men see women" makes a distinction between subject and object, without implying a comprehensive understanding from both sides of the set of social and cultural discourses known as "the male gaze." Grant that your reading of the statement is correct, and he speaks only of the subject side of the equation: it still logically follows he can only understand his experience of the male gaze, which is not the total experience.

(Leaving aside the questionable idea that there is a universal male or universal female experience even of something as pervasive as the male gaze as extraneous to the point of this post, which is to highlight the fact that many people are excluded from proportional representation in genre literary and visual media.)
Dan Sparks
8. RedHanded
Good articles, just a few questions/issues.

1. "But the SFF genre is not immune to it: despite sci-fi/fantasy fandom’s tendency to see ourselves as Smarter Better People, we absorb the narratives of the culture that surrounds us, and suffer from the same blindness to our own privileges, to recognising that our “innate and inalterable” ways of thinking are formed by a process of acculturation.
The culture we move through is still immensely sexist and racist, and its institutions shape our attitudes and behaviours even when we ourselves do not think of ourselves as either. "

By saying this it leads me to believe that you think we have no choice in what we think or believe that we absorb knowledge/beleifs/philosphy of living all thru culture and institutions and that this is the case for every single person. Just not a fan of sterotyping that everyone is this way and that no one has the ability to think for themselves and decide what is right or wrong based on reality and the nature of existence. I understand that in a culture people are surrounded by certain beliefs/norms, etc but that does not mean that every person automatically believes them or doesn't have a choice to determine how they think and why they think what they do. I'm assuming this is not the way you meant it but that's what I took from the way you wrote it.

2. Given all the issues - what do you suggest as a solution? How does one make people thoughtful? sensitive? inclusive? and original/creative? Where does someone start on changing a system that can sometimes encourage and give incentive to people for going with the status quo or going with the flow when it can lead to the problems you stated above?
Herb65
9. C Kruger
@hawkwing-lb: Thank you so much for the timely clarification. I completely agree that the idea that there is a universal 'male gaze' in incredibly heteronormative and ignores a vast variation in experiences. I apologize for not making it clear that the 'male gaze' is at best a rough generalization of the experiences of a very specific subset of the population and acknowledging that the very idea of the 'male gaze' may itself be discriminatory.

However, on your point of that Bakker does not have a total experience of the 'male gaze', do you then acknowledge that a woman does not have the total experience of the 'female gaze' (insofar as a woman knows what it is like to see the world, but not what it is like to be seen by a woman)? Personally, while I feel this has altered the traditional definition of 'gaze', I would be perfectly happy to accept this reading, as long as it is symmetrical.
N. Swain
10. Jabberwocky
@C Kruger-- it might help to know that "male gaze" is a theory term that specifically arose specifically to discuss the way women are objectified, particularly in art. "___ gaze" doesn't mean that there is a uniform way any group of individuals looks upon another. I think the wikipedia article does an ok summary.
Herb65
11. (still) Steve Morrison
Here is another link explaining the term "male gaze". As Jabberwocky notes, it is a term of art which must be understood in context.
William Carter
12. wcarter
@8

On how to change the system. I certaintly don't have all the answers but my first suggestion would be to stop giving media companies money for producing more stereotyped crap. If we don't watch tv shows and movies or read books that perpetuate it, then they will lose money on them. Stick. Instead we need to by savvy consumers that read and watch entertainment that strives for gender and racial parity. Carrot.
If we hit them in their pocketbooks, they will eventually pay attention.
Jenny Kristine
13. jennygadget
@adriel_moonstar,

I think you are right that things have gotten better, but I also think that sometimes our perception of how much better is colored by how much we forget about the past. Some of what we forget is the bad stuff like what you bring up, which makes it easy to forget not just how far we have come, but just why all those previous waves of feminists were so "angry" and militant at times. Other times though, what we have forgotten is how much women have already contributed, so that, for example, we perpetually talk about women as outsiders or newcomers to science fiction and fantasy, despite pioneers like Mary Shelley.

@Herb65,

Liz has already answered this herself, but I would also like to add that my issue with what he said is not whether or not Bakker, as a man, can understand what it means to be a woman, but that his argument conflates understanding that a point of view exists with what it is like to experience someone treating you that way. The Ku Klux Klan certainly knows that disdain towards blacks exist, that white supremecist views exist, but you can't really say that this automatically means they understand racism or even white supremacy as a political concept, per say.

To me, whether or not Bakker himself understands the male gaze in this manner is irrelevant to why his argument is wrong. Here, he is claiming that being male means that ones understands the "male gaze." Since the "male gaze" is an art crit (and feminist theory) term that means something very specific - and is more akin to white supremacy as a concept versus a belief, this argument doesn't make any sense - and in fact does nothing but demonstrate that he has no idea what the term actually means when most other people use it.

Which would be merely "eh" - except for the fact that he is specifically attempting to refute feminist arguments. Which means that he has essentially just argued against a strawfeminist.

C Kruger,

What Jabberwocky said. This isn't to say that one needs to know tons of feminists or art crit theory to use the term, just that - if one is going to use that phrase, especially in the context of evaluating feminist arguments, it would be best to be clear about what one means. Do you mean the "male gaze" - which is more about how mainstream images of women (and men) are framed in a way that assumes a heterosexual male audience - or do you mean men's point of view?

RedHanded,

With regards to #2, I would suggest reading media created by people whose experiences and points of view do not uphold the status quo. On a more immediate practical level, it means you will have more things that fall outside the status quo to discuss and recommend to other people. In terms of long terms change, it will probably change how you view and discuss more mainstream media.
Herb65
14. Covil91
In a world where women are a little OVER half the population; in a world were women are able to make their own publishing companies; in a world where women can write their own stories, we somehow still have inequality in fiction. Why it's almost as if the status quo is not a problem for a lot of women at all.

Also Twilight and a plethora of other romance novel tripe, I'm not saying reading romance novels makes you a bad person. I'm just saying, watching women take them seriously is a little like watching a guy call himself a fan of Backdoor Sluts 9: The Buggering.
Jenny Kristine
15. jennygadget
"Why it's almost as if the status quo is not a problem for a lot of women at all."

You do realize that equality is not always about numbers, yes? I wasn't aware, after all, that the British ever outnumbered Indians in India. Or that whites outnumbered blacks/coloreds in South Africa.

"Also Twilight and a plethora of other romance novel tripe...."

The popularity of Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, and romance novels in general is a bit more compicated than most people make it out to be. Part of why it sounds ridiculous for a guy to say that he is a fan of cheesy porn (which, since you brought it up, I wasn't aware that many men weren't fans of cheesy porn...) is because it isn't ridiculous or dangerous for men - or teen boys - to say that they are interested in sex. For teen girls in particular, saying so carries a risk that it does not for most men/boys.

I see the popularity of Twilight to be connected to the same reason that magazines like Bop have stayed smack in the middle of cheesy territory - even as the rest of visual media marketed to teens girls becomes increasingly glossy and slick: for teen girls, subjecting themselves to potential ridicule and mocking is safer than subjecting themselves to some of the other insults and dangers that might arise from being seen as interested in media that caters to the "female gaze" in a more serious and sophisticated manner.

I mean, for many teen girls, your little brother may give you shit for having an issue of Tiger Beat in your room, but ownership of actual erotica or sex toys is like more likely to result in Serious Lectures from the parental units - and possibly even more restrictions and interrogation regarding your choices of media, friends, and leisure time in general.

There are lots of wonderfully open minded and sensible parents out there - but there are also quite a few that refuse to do things like put their daughters on "birth" control in order to manage painful and irregular periods, etc. And these parents are much more common and mainstream than many people realize. This is the reality than many teen girls must navigate, and the context in which Twilight was made popular.
Christopher Johnstone
16. CPJ
Another interesting post. I enjoy reading these, though I don't always have much to add.

In the novel I've been plugging away at currently* I've forced myself to stop at the point where any character is introduced and asked myself, 'Does this character have to be the sex I initially envisioned? Can I swap it, or make it something else entirely and just write it as I was going to play it out anyway?' Sometimes I find it doesn't matter and shrug and keep the sex as is, sometimes I find it doesn't matter and swap the character's sex because, why not? Almost always, as it turns out, from a plot point of view, it doesn't matter, and it often makes it more interesting to swap sexes and break from expectations.

I've of course stumbled into odd and seemingly self-unexamined things, like the assumption that talking animals are by default male in my head for some reason (I still have to conciously change 'he' to 'she' in a couple of talking animal instances and go back to make sure I haven't been altering the sex back to male by accident in places).

It's been an interesting exercise and has I think it has made the story more gender-balanced so far, though I haven't done a count of male/female. Probably should do that. Would be interesting to see if it is coming out close to 50/50 and adjust accordingly.

* I'm largely unpublished. A few short stories only. I'm more of a hobby writer who writes for the enjoyment of writing, so this is just a personal experience that seems worth relating rather than wise words from someone who knows something about stuff.
Herb65
17. C Kruger
@Jabberwocky et al, thanks for the clarifications about 'male gaze', I was not aware that it was actually a term and enjoyed both of the links that were given. Interestingly, this knowledge makes both Bakker's comments and @hawkwing_lb's response more interesting. While I agree that Bakker makes it sound like his masculinity gives him an inside edge on a feminist theory, which is surprising to say the least, hawkwing's comment in 7 seems to still mean that Bakker, if not all men, are incapable of completely understanding 'male gaze'. If this term is solely meant to refer to an audience being put in the perspective of a heterosexual male, I still feel hawking has overstepped in her critique.
Herb65
18. AlBrown
@adriel_moonstar. You state that you, "grew up in the day when the only young adult SF was Tom Swift," but also that you attended officer training in the 1980s. Tom Swift was not the only YA SF in the 1920s and 30s, let alone the only YA SF in the 1970s. If you grew up reading Tom Swift in some decade after the books were published, that I understand, as I grew up reading them in the 1960s. But they weren't the only game in town, just something that my dad had saved from his own childhood. Along with the Great Marvel Series, another YA SF series from the same publisher, and the same era.
Now, to the topic at hand. There have been times when lots of fiction minimized the role of women to 'love interests' or 'damsels in distress.' But there have also been many writers, many of them men, who have given women more prominent roles. Edgar Rice Burroughs, for example, had lots of strong women in his Mars stories. Among the fairly traditional SF stories of Astounding/Analog SF, James H. Schmitz gave us a whole universe full of strong women characters, from the Witches of Karres to Telzey Amberdon and Trigger, to the Agent of Vega. We are all human, and I see no reason why a man who sets his mind to it can't write a woman character well, and vice versa. None of us has ever piloted an FTL starship, but it doesn't mean we can't write about it.
And one of the best things that have emerged in my lifetime is the plethora of woman writers, who have brought great diversity to the field of SF. The days when an author, such as Andre Norton, had to pick a gender neutral pen name, are gone. And in my opinion, there is no one who does a better job at creating interesting strong characters, male or female, than Lois Bujold McMaster.
I guess I am a 'glass half full' person, because I see lots of examples of balanced gender characterizations, and the trend is definitely moving in the right direction.
Shelly wb
19. shellywb
The belittling of romance novels is yet another indicator of the problem. Women take them seriously because to many of us their focus on emotions and relationships (including sexual ones) is important, though a male-dominated society has brainwashed everyone into believing such a focus means the work is tripe.
Herb65
20. Edward Brennan
@Albrown
I agree about Bujold, but she doesn't even stop with male or female, she has a very intentionally complex view of sex, gender, and its myriads of intertwinings. I think this is probably because she tries to treat each of her characters with a certain amount of dignity (I wouldn't even say human because that would be far to constraining). If one looks at her "villians" they are generally people with goals, emotions, and often families. They might not be doing right, but they are behaving like varied individuals.


@Shellywb
I agree about the romance novels, though I hope this is changing. One of my favorite books within SFF is "A Civil Campaign" by Bujold (yes she is a personal favorite). Through that I was led to Georgette Heyer among others. Reading romance, should not, even for a guy like me, be tripe. My world is so much more enriched by taking Romance seriously. It saddens me when I find guys now who are scared off of paranormal romance, and not for the paranormal part. (I really liked Discount Armegeddon by Seanan Mcguire, another strong female character.)

As for R Scott Bakker, I find his idea of writing for a guy to be horribly demeaning, because, as a guy, that is so much less than who I am. To riff Emily Dickinson- My brain is wider than his sky. The less sanity points wasted on him the better.

People talk about how someone like George RR Martin, plays with the tropes by killling main characters and making them less heroic and more personally driven. But this seems pale innovation, when Kate Elliot actually offers so much more. Stories that haven't ever been properly told let alone retold. Inventing new myth, instead of recycling the old.

All those stories of "People-even women!" waiting to be told. I would so much rather read those than harp on R Scott Bakker. His audience is already smaller than even he thinks it is.

It is a problem that these sorts of stories don't get told, but in the chinese proverb sense, this problem is a great opprotunity. For other writers looking to be Smarter Better People, I would reccommend "The Woman in the Story" by Helen Jacey to be a good place to start as far as writing women characters. This was especially true for me since I don't have the first person experience.
Herb65
21. Scott Bakker
I sometimes think it doesn't matter how many qualifiers I tack on, I will be consistently misrepresented. I certainly was by Foz - comically so - but I'm learning first hand the power of the web to transform superficial misreadings into chest-thumping gospel.

So I will simply say, No, Liz, you got me wrong. I understand the male gaze from the perspective of a male who has spent many moons pondering, reading, even teaching, feminism. No more, no less. Do you assume that you understand the male gaze *from the male perspective* better than me? Of course not. Do I understand the male gaze *from the female perspective* better than you? Of course not.

And I certainly don't think women are 'secondary.' I just made the mistake of creating a fantasy world that, like the world of the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishads, and so on, attributes an inferior spiritual status to women, thinking that most readers would see this as an obvious critique.

Otherwise, should I find the idea of writers who target audiences other than me demeaning? Guys need to have their gender assumptions rattled - I'm sure you agree with at least that much! So I chose to target them and those assumptions directly. This is a demeaning mistake?

So, just to be clear, the "R. Scott Bakker" you cite here has very little to do with me. The claims you hang on him are not my own. The picture you paint is little more than a caricature.

How can you claim to dissapprove of me, my moral scruples, and my literary tactics when you so obviously know so very little about them? Accusations like this can be destructive, Liz. At the very least, do at least a *little* footwork before making them.
Herb65
23. Dodge
Good article. (I posted this yesterday with an emoticon but it rendered as question marks for some reason. The post was deleted so I am re-posting.)
Herb65
24. S.M. Stirling
"Let's compare that to real life: *60 percent of all college graduates are women. We're 20 years late showing them in active roles in the workplace."

-- that's largely because the people who write scripts didn't graduate last year; they graduated some time ago. There's an inevitable lag. Also, a lot of fiction is not based on reality, even yesterday's reality; it's based on -other fiction-, recursively.

>*Violent crimes against women are a fact, even a cursory glance at FBI crime statistics will show you criminals usualyl go after precived victims of opportunity.

-- certain crimes (rape outside prison, frex) typically have female victims. However, most extreme violence is done by young males, and other than the above example more often than not it's directed against other young males.

Female crime victims are overwhelmingly attacked by men, of course.

Women are not inherently nicer or more moral than men, but they're much more likely to pick your pocket than slug you or stick a gun in your face to get your wallet.

>BUT plenty of women are also capable defending themselves and unfortunitely, of committing violent crimes everybit as heinous as the ones men committ.

-- sure, but again the overwhelming majority of perps are young men. The number of violent female criminals has increased, in absolute terms and proportionately, but not all that much. Prison remains a largely male domain.

You are much more likely to meet a female cop than a female mugger.

There are, of course, systematic falsifications in the visual media's depiction of crime.

Eg., if you've seen the latest Spiderman, you'll note that NYC apparently has vast numbers of Nordic street criminals (and also that there are apparently still tenements where everyone hangs the laundry to dry on the fire escapes). Apparently Hollywood prefers to preserve some elements from the 1940's rather than update them.

(PS: damn, but the Captcha feature here is annoying.)
Steven Halter
25. stevenhalter
S.M. Stirling@24:If you register as a user here you don't have to deal with captcha anymore.
Herb65
26. denelian
Mr. Bakker;

you are running into a problem that so many, many people who are on the outside of (X)oppression run into (where X means whichever oppression; by gender, race, sexuality, religion, etc)
to whit;
you are creating fiction which is, in a sense, playing into Poe's Law so heavily, people don't get that it's meant to be something that "shocks" (or however you want to phrase it). in the plethora of fiction, your "edgy new take on the horribleness that happens to women but is really an indictment of that treatment, created to make the (male) reader SEE that what (he) does and thinks w/r/t women is WRONG" looks and reads exactly like mainstream fiction that just assumes this is the way women should be viewed and treated because this is how they are viewed and treated in real life.
also - being that it takes that horrible treatment and turns it up to 11 in places, in those places it reads as a freaking fantasy of how some people WANT women to be treated.

it *ISN'T* coming across as an indictment of the patriarchy/kyriarchy that we live in; it comes across as a cross between "status quo" and "see, this is *awesome!*"
in short, however you mean to lambast the mistreatment of women, you are instead celebrating it and in some respects even encouraging it not just continue, but become *worse*

your defense of it misses the point; there's a very, very valid school of literary/critical thought (generally) called "Death of the Author". TVTropes defines it really well here:
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DeathOfTheAuthor
quote from TVTropes
"A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work; otherwise he would not have written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations." Umberto Eco, postscript to The Name of the Rose

it doesn't matter what *YOU* intend - all that matters is how the reader takes it.
i say this as a person who tried to read one of your books. i don't remember which one. i do remember the fact that it caused me a LOT of problems, and i couldn't finish it (having PTSD can do that... except i've read other books that include these themes, but that didn't cause the same reaction in me. possibly because, reading those other books, my first coherent thought *wasn't* "oh gods, this man HATES women and he terrifies me". i'm just sayin'...)

after a certain point, parody taken seriously becomes serious. Stephen Colbert has the same problem, if it makes you feel any better - he set out to mock and deride the far-right wingnuts of the U.S.... and that same far-right fringe embraced him as one of them and totally think that he *IS* one of them, that he's not mocking and deriding them.

if you really want to try and change the perception of women, perhaps you could take a different approach.
start with realizing even the most pessimistic of stats say that 1-in-4 women will be raped/sexually assaulted in her LIFETIME and that isn't JUST rape. "sexually assaulted" encompasses all the areas between non-sexual harassment and actual rape.
by the most-pessimistic of stats, 3-in-4 women haven't gone through this.

so maybe portray these things a bit more realistically.

and seriously - stop defending yourself this way. all you're doing is making it WORSE.
Herb65
27. denelian
Mr. Stirling;

what are you *DOING*?!?! you're supposed to be chained to the computer churning out more SEQUELS!!! the next Shadowspawn, for one, not to mention The Given Sacrifice, and have i mentioned another book/story in the Peshawar universe wouldn't go amiss...

(please don't mind me - i say similar things to both Mike Williamson and Rosemary Edghill all the time :-) then again, i've edited for Rosemary, so at least i pay for it! which is the perfect place to plug her e-book with Mercedes Lackey (that i edited. because the e-book publisher wouldn't pay for a "professional"); Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students. seriously - if you liked the other modern-bards and elves books by Misty and Rose, you'll love this! and they can't publish more unless more peoples buy it. so buy it, read it, love it, pimp it!)
Herb65
28. EZK
"I’m not using R. Scott Bakker as an example just to pick on an easy target"

Let's pick on a harder target then -> Do you have anything to say about the Readercon incident involving one of your fellow Tor bloggers?

Or is this whole set of articles just a new marketing technique?
Liz Bourke
29. hawkwing-lb
@EZK: I stated my opinions of the Readercon incident on my own blog. In short I do not condone the decision of the Readercon board, and I do not think that harrassment of any kind is appropriate behaviour in any community.

I have never met nor interacted with either the complainant or the perpetrator, for your information, only speak for myself as a freelance writer, and cannot speak for Tor.com.

If you are looking for a public statement from Tor.com on an incident which only peripherally involves them, you would be better off emailing the actual staff.

Or is this whole set of articles just a new marketing technique?

I am offended, sir or madam or otherwise-identified person, and demand satisfaction. Either demonstrate grounds for suggesting I am insincere in my public positions, or retract the suggestion. In either event, I suggest you refrain from insulting the sincerity of strangers. If you wish to contact the people who commissioned this column and inquire of their sincerity, there is a "Contact Tor.com" link at the bottom of the page.

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