Thu
Dec 6 2012 1:00pm

Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.

Fantasy author Tansy Rayner Roberts on historically authentic sexism in fantasyThere was a great, thoughtful article at The Mary Sue on one of my pet topics: the common justification of sexist fantasy fiction being that it’s historically authentic.

I am BUSY today, far too busy for a rant, but then I felt one coming on, and was worried I might end up with a migraine if I tried to stifle it. You know how it is. So let’s talk about sexism in history vs. sexism in fantasy.

WARNING, ACADEMIC IN THE HOUSE.

I agree with pretty much everything said in the Mary Sue article: when you’re writing fantasy inspired by history, you don’t have to take all the ingrained sexism of historical societies along for the party, and even when you do, you don’t have to write women in a sexist or demeaning way. Your fantasy will not break by treating women as if they are people too.

But my rant is actually not quite about that stuff at all. It’s about history, and this notion that History Is Authentically Sexist. Yes, it is. Sure it is. We all know that. But what do you mean when you say “history?”

History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.

History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.

But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and other writers of what we now consider “primary sources” simply didn’t think about women and their contribution to society. They took it for granted, except when that contribution or its lack directly affected men.

This does not in any way mean that the female contribution to society was in fact less interesting or important, or complicated, simply that history—the process of writing down and preserving of the facts, not the facts/events themselves—was looking the other way.

In history, from primary sources through most of the 20th century (I will absolve our current century-in-progress out of kindness but let’s not kid ourselves here), the assumption has always been that men’s actions are more politically and historically significant to society, BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFORMED BY MEN.

Here’s an example from my honours days: most of the history books looking at Roman state religion were clear that women’s participation in the religious rituals of the state was probably less important or politically relevant, because women were excluded from making blood sacrifice. This was used as evidence, in fact, that women weren’t that important to politics in general. However, more modern and forward-thinking scholars pointed out that in fact the only reason why we assume blood sacrifice was an essential and a more politically important religious rite was because it was restricted to men. Plenty of rituals were restricted to women too, and those rituals were assumed to be less politically relevant on the whole. Guess why. Go on, guess. As it turns out, women did perform sacrifices (mostly of baked goods), and many of their rituals were private rather than public, but they were all performing religous rituals which were essential to the state. Different does not mean better.

Rome was a highly superstitious society which relied on all manner of rituals to feel safe and protected. Those rituals which were performed within the home were as important as those performed in public places—but they weren’t written about to the same extent because they were mostly done by women, often exclusively by women, and secrecy was a common element. There are many reasons why men didn’t write down the details (except when they interacted with court cases) and one of those reasons was, they didn’t know what those details were. Women’s history, sadly, was not much of a thing, and what words women did write down were not preserved over the next millennium.

Guess why. Go on, guess.

Women’s lives were not written down except on the rare occasions that they were useful tools in the politics of men, or where maligning/celebrating them was relevant to the politics of men, bu that doesn’t mean they weren’t really, really interesting by modern standards.

History is not society. It only covers one aspect. History is imperfect, and biased, and it always, always has omissions. The most common omissions are the bits that the writer of that history took for granted that his readers would know.

So how does this affect fantasy fiction?

Fantasy author Tansy Rayner Roberts on historically authentic sexism in fantasyFANTASY IS NOT HISTORY

We have a tendency in fantasy fiction to assume that the military/warfare and the politics (two key elements of epic fantasy, with magic being a strong third) are male domains because this was usually the case in history.

Well, I will agree for the MOST part on the warfare aspect, though I think Battlestar Galactica showed us that you can have female characters on the front lines of your story and still tell very close to the same kinds of stories as you would have done if the soldiers were all men. The Starship Troopers movie, adapting a much earlier work, showed this too. Okay, those are science fiction, but fantasy does not have to be hamstrung by the social conventions of the past. If you want those social conventions in place for other story reasons then you can get around that too by bringing women into the story. Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment has a lot to say about the different kinds of women you might find on a battlefield, and the many different reasons why they might be there despite restrictive social mores. Or, you know, you could read some actual history, because for all its patriarchal leanings, you will find that women’s roles in war were a lot more varied than many people expect.

When it comes to politics, I’m sorry, but there are no excuses. Sure, women have been excluded from the public political process for large swathes of history and culture (except, you know, when they weren’t—even the supreme patriarchy that was Rome didn’t have complete control over the provinces, where female politicians and civil servants sprung up like weeds) but public is only one piece of politics. The Mary Sue article refers substantially to Game of Thrones, and that’s a very good example, but again you can look to history—as soon as there is any form of dynastic element to your politics, then women are IMPORTANT. Even when the political careers are solely male, those men have wives and families who have a stake in the proceedings and the outcomes, they have risks to take and campaigns to wage every bit as much as the men. And if the women’s politics are happening in salons rather than assembly halls… maybe you should be peeking into those salons. I can guarantee political DYNAMITE is going on in there. With finger sandwiches and mint tea? Why not?

And you know, if your political system is inherently and essentially misogynist and that is essential to your worldbuilding, then throwing a few women into that system to see what cracks first is actually the most interesting thing you could do. Like with science fiction where SCIENCE GOES WRONG is the most interesting plot.

Then there’s magic. There are no excuses here. None at all. Either you have a magic system which is inclusive of women, or exclusive of women, and in both instances, FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO HAVE OPINIONS ABOUT THAT. If you really want a patriarchal, masculine magical system, then as with politics, the most interesting thing you can do is throw women at that system, to see where the cracks are.

So what are the take home messages here?

1. History is more interesting than most people think. Despite everything I have said, it also has quite a lot of women in it. Read some history. Read some more. Check out the social historians, because they’re the ones who tend to pay more attention to what everyone in a society are doing, not just the aristocratic men who think they’re in charge.

2. Treating female characters as people will make your fantasy more interesting. Not just to female readers. To readers who are people. And, let’s face it, most readers are.

3. Make your books better.

This article originally appeared on Tansy Rayner Roberts' blog.


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the fantasy author of the Creature Court trilogy and one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection “Love and Romanpunk.” She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day. Come and find her on Twitter!

262 comments
Fade Manley
1. fadeaccompli
So I'm reading Orestes right now--the Euripides play. It's a play about Orestes, at least in theory. Myth rendered as fiction, but still a sort of history, about one of the more misogynist parts of history. (Athens in that time period? Not a great place to be a woman!) And--here. Let me explain. This is relevant.

This is a play that's really entirely about women. It starts with Electra, who explains the situation and watches her brother. The chorus is made of young women (who would all have been played by young men) who encourage her and support her decisions. The inciting event is Orestes having murdered his mother Clytemnestra; he's haunted by the Furies (women!), or possibly just by his own imagining of them, because of that murder. Helen's in his house, back from the Trojan war, mourning her sister and entirely concerned with her beloved daughter Hermione.

Orestes is wildly misogynistic. Even by local standards. He believes that all women are desperately waiting for a chance to murder their husbands; he eventually turns to trying to murder Helen (rescued by the gods!), and then threatening to murder Hermione (who he ends up marrying, instead). "I will never grow tired of continuously killing wicked women," he tells Menalaus, who's begging for Hermione's life. Hermione, who in the entire play, has never been anything but dutiful and sympathetic to him. And Electra is there, urging him on...

Even then. Even there. Even in Athens, even in a play where the protagonist and his best friend talk about how all women (except for Electra! She's just like one of the guys!) are untrustworthy. Women aren't absent from history, and they're not irrelevant, and they're not just objects to be acted on. There is nothing in that entire play that doesn't end up coming back to women who do things.

Which is my verbose way of saying: yes. What this article said. I agree with it. That.
fizzel
3. fizzel
Could it be summed up as "only because your world is sexits it does not means your book have to be too"?
fizzel
4. Jha
Marilyn French has a four-volume history of women, which she says barely even scratches the surface of how women's lives were so intertwined with important historical events, and the sexism that excludes them is so clear in her records. It's called From Eve to Dawn and I highly recommend it for anybody who wants to get all "BUT WOMEN NOT IMPORTANT IN HISTORY" and for really everybody.
Sean Dowell
5. qbe_64
Based on the following assumptions, which I will readily admit has no concrete evidence behind them, here's the problem.

1. The majority of sci-fi/fantasy readers are men. I'm sure the spread has narrowed in recent years, but I believe thats still true (probably in no small part to the lack of quality female characters in fantasy)
2. As a man, I prefer my leads to be male. Since I have no experience being a women, I can better appreciate and relate to a well written male character, than an equally well written female one.
3. I would rather read fantasy about characters that I can relate to/identify with than ones I cannot, and therefore as a male, would rather read stories with male leads.
4. Writers of fantasy, male or female, want to make money.

So, if the majority of the demographic you're writing for is male, and males better identify with male characters and you want to maximize your audience to make the most money, there is going to be a larger focus on male in fantasy. And it's not based on history, its based on economics.
fizzel
6. Katedoken
If you'd like to see a feminist perspective on a male-dominated society, read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. It does an AMAZING job of showing how women hold politic, clout even in the most chauvanistic society.
Fade Manley
7. fadeaccompli
qbe_64: As a man, I prefer my leads to be male.

As a man, my husband prefers that the leads in stories he reads be female. So, what, do you cancel each other out? Or fight? Or does he go sit in a special box for men who aren't being targetted properly by Marketing?

Overall, though, this baffles me. I could kinda see it if you only ever read books set in the exact same place where you live, and the same culture; if you have a hard time identifying with strange people who are Not Like You, then, sure, just read people of the same sex and gender. Makes sense.

But we're talking about science fiction and fantasy. Genres that are defined by being Not Quite This Place Here Where We Live. Is a male dragon easier to sympathize with than a woman? Can you identify better with a male alien than a female one? Is there something about going "Yes! I am MALE, not FEMALE!" that makes it easier to understand a protagonist that comes from a completely different time, culture, setting, and set of ethics than your own?

And even if that's all the case, what the hell does any of that have to do with how women are portrayed in the entire setting and book?

The only way your "economics" theory makes sense in relation to this essay is if a majority of scifi and fantasy readers are averse to seeing settings wherein women do important things, regardless of viewpoint character. And if that's the case, that's a neon-glowing mark of shame for the reading public, not a shrug-it-off mention of the market demographics.
Liz Bourke
8. hawkwing-lb
amalmohtar @2:

*THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE*

Seconded.

Classical Greece was a society which restricted public roles for women even more than Republican Rome. Yet, still, (some) women emerge as employing strategies to gain a measure of control of their own lives, even from the scattered sources: if Neaira were not a figure of significance in the social world of Athens, Democritus's Against Neaira wouldn't have mattered - but it did.

ETA: fadeaccompli @7:

You said everything I wanted to, but better.
Amal El-Mohtar
9. amalmohtar
qbe_64: So, given that your problem is, by your own assertion, based on no evidence whatsoever, it should follow that there is, in fact, no problem. The only problem I see is that you yourself have no interest in reading about women, and feel justified in generalizing your own unique perspective on to all men, and drawing erroneous conclusions from those false premises.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
That is one of things I enjoy most about GoT, is that Martin constructs this patriarchal world and gives 50% of the viewpoints to women, which gives the reader this fabulous diversity as you read how they all navigate this power structure, how they learn to play into or defy it.

It has really elevated what could have been just a run of the mill fantasy story into something truly epic.
Liz Bourke
11. hawkwing-lb
qbe_64 @5:

Your statement
The majority of sci-fi/fantasy readers are men.
troubles me. Where is your evidence? In terms of books written in genre, the M:F split works out closer to 60:40, or 55:45 (depending on year, with UF sliding more F, and science fiction skewing more M), according to the last set of numbers I saw. There has been little formal study done on readerships, but I'd expect the percentage of readers to be roughly equivalent in the M:F categories to the percentage of writers.

Therefore your foundational assumption is shown to be, most probably fundamentally flawed.
fizzel
12. Kimikimi
No offence meant qbe_64 but that argument doesn't really hold water. 1) Most readers of genre fiction are women, men tend to read non-fiction. 2) Not everyone shares your preferences. I read books withboth male and female protagonists and enjoy them, especially if they have a strong narritive voice. 3) It's just as easy to relate to people of the opposite gender, as long as the problems they are facing are universal, most good fiction is about good vs evil, what makes humans human, etc. 4) the biggest selling genre of books right now are romance novels, they make the most money and get the least respect. They have both male and female protagonists and narrators, so why can't fantasy? If it was just a money issue evey writter would be wrting Harliquin romances.

Sorry if that's long winded and boring, I just don't think stating econimics is a valid enough reason to exclude women from fantasy and Sci-fi.
Sean Dowell
13. qbe_64
@7, @9,

Speaking in generalities will obviously result in some opinions not fitting the consensus. I'm not saying that there aren't men who prefer reading female characters, but I believe the majority prefer male leads.

While you can argue that a certain female author writes male characters than better than a certain male author, again in general, I'm sure you would find that that same author would right write her own female characters better than her own male characters. And I'm sure there are exceptions, but we are talking about fantasy/sci-fi as a genre in general.

You seem to be automatically associating a preference for one, with an aversion for the other. Preferring to read male leads does not equate to refusal to read female leads. Suggesting that I have no interest in reading female characters because I prefer male ones is logically absurd.
I prefer red wine, but I don't go around pouring white down the drain whenever I find a bottle.

So in conclusion, preferring to read leads based on your own doesn't make you a shameful person, or chauvanistic. And it's my opinion that if you want to improve the quality of female characters in fantasy then the place to start is with more female readers. I also think that you'd have more female readers if you had better female characters. And that for writers to write better female characters there needs to be more female readers.
So how do you deal with that catch-22?
Well I don't have an opinion on that.
fizzel
14. Ranylt
Helluvan article, thanks. Bookmarked.

I'm a broken record, but Scott Lynch's "Gentleman Bastards" series, so far, proves that drawing women as more than whores (or exceptions) won't break your fantasy world--will in fact make it come alive. And that's in a tale about a circle of men, told from the POV of men, and written by a man. Still does wonders. Lynch gets it.
Scott Silver
15. hihosilver28
Many have already chimed in regarding qbe_64, thought I'd throw in my 2-cents.
I'm a male reader of fantasy, and have been forever. Both male, and a reader of fantasy. :) I can understand where you are coming from with identification with a male character, but I read fantasy to put myself into someone else's shoes. Ones which would be impossible to assume in my life. Truth be told, that's why I read fiction as a whole, fantasy or anything else. Why would I want to cut myself off from 50% of available viewpoints out there? (assuming a strict male/female dichotomy, which isn't all there is in literature) I adore reading the female chapters of The Wheel of Time. Same thing with Arya, Brienne, and Catelyn for A Song of Ice and Fire. And if you want to read fantasy written by a female that has phenomenal characterization, look no further than Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor or Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Onyesonwu is a phenomenal character, and the same goes for Karou in Taylor's novel. Who Fears Death is definitely not a "typical" fantasy, but if you wrap your head around the fact that it's not in a medieval setting and keep an open mind, it's fantastic.
Chris Nelly
16. Aeryl
I love how the men prefer male leads is this just so story, instead of being completely related to the erasure of women from history.

Most women get by learning to enjoy stories with male leads, because if we didn't, we'd never get to read anything(this is changing, and hoo-rah). Perhaps we'd live in a less sexist world if men actually took the time to try to get in the shoes of women, as women have been forced to do for men.
fizzel
17. TBGH
I think adding intelligent, interesting, determined people of varied races, creeds, and genders is important to having an in-depth world. However, surely we can agree that historically men were much more likely to be rulers, generals, scholars, etc. which are what fantasy usually features. And for every woman behind the power you can find in history, you can also point to a man behind the throne.

Unless you create your universe specifically to give advantages to women (WOT) then it's hard to construct a believable non-sexist world still largely dependent on physical labor. I totally believe and respect authors like GRRM who have strong women struggling under the yoke of sexism, but I have a hard time suspending disbelief at the utopian fantasy/historical novels where seemingly no one is even aware of the concept of sexism.
Deana Whitney
18. Braid_Tug
Let's look at WOT and GoT. Both have almost equal numbers of men and women. Both are wildly successful. And both show power wielded by men and women, while done differently, can still be effective.

Reminds me of Cordelia’s comments to Mark in Mirror Dance. "The old men think their game is the only game in town. But the old women's game (marriage and insuring the next generation) is just as important."

So yes, having more than just one or two token females to the fantasy party would be a great thing.

Thinking women were not involved in History? Dudes really?
Fatimah (Muhammad’s daughter), Eleanor of Aquitaine, Wang Cong’er (Qing Dynasty), Queen Elizabeth I & II, Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher and so many others whose names we don’t know but admire their handy work in museums across the globe.

Quick Trivia: Who were the first people ransomed back during Medieval warfare?
The Nobles – No
The Archers – No
The Blacksmiths – No
The Washer Women – Yes, and these were NOT “camp followers” as in whores. These were the women who literally washed the clothes and dishes used for everything. Without them, the army would die from all sorts of nasty illnesses.

I was actually thrilled to see several references to the washer women in WOT.
fizzel
19. wingracer
I'm a man. I don't care who or what the viewpoint character is, as long as they are interesting and I care about them (or despise them if a villain). One of my favorite characters in Martin's works is Arya Stark, a young woman. I just finished reading a bunch of Joe Abercrombie and one of my favorites was Ferro, a really badass woman.

I really don't care about genre either. What I love is a good story. Right now I'm about halfway through reading what could probably be described as a "chic-lit" romance novel. Why? Becasue the reviews for it on goodreads are so overwhelmingly spectacular, I wanted to check it out. So far, it's pretty good. I'll take a great story written for/by/about women over a crap story for men any day.
Liz Bourke
20. hawkwing-lb
TBGH @17:

Must we agree? Does one have to provide you a list of historical queens and scholars (and occasional soldiers) before you acknowledge that history all too often writes them out?

(Because I can, you know. There was a list on this very site not two months ago. The women named therein were not exceptions, save in that they were sufficiently notorious or reknowned as to be remembered.)

History is narrative. Narrative is created: it does not arise of its own self and will. When writers of fiction take up the dominant narrative of history without interrogating it... it's pure intellectual laziness.
fizzel
21. David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Um, fantasy & SF by & about women? It's good! Reading Carol Severance's "Reefsong" this week. Nonstop action & great worldbuilding. I cannot agree with anyone dismissing fiction cos of gender of author or protagonist.
Fade Manley
22. fadeaccompli
However, surely we can agree that historically men were much more likely to be rulers, generals, scholars, etc. which are what fantasy usually features.

My goodness. How did I never notice that men were the et ceteras of history? Surely all of these historical books written by men should have told me that when it comes to a completely unstated category of people that fantasy--working in a tradition based on men writing about men, drawing on histories about men written about men--those people would probably be men! I am enlightened!

And god knows that when I pick up a fantasy novel, what I really want is a novel that's statistically accurate to the assessment of unstated categories of people, as described in the histories recorded by men. So of course those people should be men. Why, every time I read a story about a peasant rising up to be ruler, or a dragon swooping down on a city, I can sit back in the full comfort of know that it will be a MALE peasant and a MALE ruler and a MALE dragon and a MALE city, just like the statistical figures show it always was!

God knows I never read fantasy and science fiction for a chance to read about remarkable, unusual people. I demand the rigorous of use of the statistics recorded primarily by men to give me the most accurate representation of what men thought was most important about what other men were doing, whenever a protagonist and the setting around him is created for my reading pleasure.
Karen L
23. changisme
I think there are two separate issue here. One is whether the story is constructing/set in a world with sexism as we define it now. Another issue is whether the story has sufficient number of female characters (or even male characters) that are well rounded and defy conventions. While these two issues may be related, they should not be confused.

Game of thrones, like many historical fantasy novels, is set in a world with strong sexist tendencies. For example, primary political figures are always male (Cercei somehow has to sit behind a king, similarly Catlin and her sister). This is sometimes less accented. For example, Patrick Rathfuss' The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, both set in fairly typical fantasy environment, but women are trained in the University, but still in relatively small numbers, plus the author does not forget to tag on a neighboring country that is somewhat matriarchical. I think the reason for this tendency is that, we don't know how to construct a political fantasy world without the notion of marriage. At the same time, we don't know how to write about marriages without mysogeny, starting with the females changing their names.

A separate issue is whether the women in the stories are well rounded. Tansy (in this post) puts it quite well, that women in history are very important and interesting. They are involved in political intrigues, as well as military, but as wives and daughters. Game of Thrones certainly did not stifle this at all. These women defy convention, so in a way, they almost make the world they live in more sexist by contrast. Men in stories, should ALSO defy convention. If any character is sooo typical, s/he becomes uninteresting.

One thing I cannot make up my mind about is all the female orders in fantasy stories, such as the Sisterhood which Lady Jessica belongs to. Do they necessarily make the characters more interesting in terms of gender roles? Do they make the world more or less sexist? I'm not certain.
fizzel
24. Adrian Charles
To my understanding, the majority of fantasy readers are women, though I believe that many men presume otherwise— a very mainstream habit, though of course a problematic one.

But the issue at hand here goes far beyond the question of female leads. Misogyny makes a mockery of decent writing.

It requires that the writer and reader conspire to be bull-headedly blind to the existence, agency, and character of female people, focusing myopically only on men, with the occasional exception of a prurient sexual interest or a throwaway cardboard insert.

But it further then requires idiocy with regard to plot- we are supposed to swallow the idea that brutal misogyny proceeds without consequence— which is assuredly not the case. Brutality leads to hatred, suspicion, and sometimes betrayal and revenge— not only from the women wronged, but from their brothers, lovers, and sons.

Note that even the most brutal patriarchial societies involve vigorous protection of the womenfolk by the men of the family.

Systematic, habitual, consequence-free brutalisation of random women, as far as I can tell, occurs only in the imaginations of misogynistic authors.
fizzel
25. Draken
@ qbe_64
I disagree wholeheartedly.
1. Perhaps the majority of SFF readers are male. I don't know and I'm not going to do the research.
2. I'm also male (with no experience of being female), but as long as the characters are well drawn out and feel alive on the page, their sex makes not a whit of difference. Relation comes with whether I feel their situation is recognisable (to me) and the way they act in that situation is in some way understandable (to me). Therefore, my relation to a character, or not, is comepletely attributable to how well the author draws out the motivation for that character's actions. Nothing to do with their sex.
3. I'd also like to read stories about characters I can identify with. Guess what I'm going to say? Nothing to do with their sex. Indentification with a character comes with feeling - through relation.When a character's recognisable plight or situation induces sympathy for, or empathy with, them in me, I can say I have indentified with them. Again down to the skill of the author.
4. I'm not aware enough of the SFF readership demographic in relation to the economics of it all to comment one way or the other, but I admit to being skeptical of your assertions.
Hopefully I've explained, at least for this male reader, why none of your arguments make story sense.
Great characters populating a great story please! First and foremost.
fizzel
26. TBGH
@20
I guess we don't all agree, but no matter what country I choose, when I do a search of past rulers for that country, they're primarily male. And can we at least agree that the historians are not hiding more than a very few female rulers at most from the timelines?

For the record I've tried England (and Great Britain), China (estimated by scanning the list, not actually counted), Egypt, and France.

I'm not saying wives didn't influence their husbands or that noble women did not excercise power. I'm just saying because of the discrimination of the day, men were much more likely to hold the very top spots.

And are you really contesting that the vast majority of generals/warlords through history are male? I'm pretty well versed at least in naval history 1700s-1900s and I can't think of a single female captain in any of the notable engagements (or anywhere else for that matter). I'm sure there were women of the time who would have been brilliant commanders, but they obviously weren't given the opportunity. We can debate the reason for that, but I find it very hard to accept there were even close to as many female soldiers as there were male. What percentage of soldiers would you say historically were women before say WWI?
fizzel
27. tobbA
I have no trouble identifying with female characters that are well written. In fact, a big part of the reason why I read fantasy and science fiction is because I want to be exposed to situations different from my own. I don't know what it's like to be a thief, an astronaut, or a talking monkey either. But if those characters are well written and believeable I'm able to relate to the as well as any other character, no matter what gender they are.

As for the topic at hand, I don't really think it's a question about which place women have in the world, but more about how they're written. (Which I guess is what the article is saying, basically.) A good female lead isn't necessarily one that does everything the guys do just as well or better. But a character with depth that doesn't feel like it's been shoehorned into a role and accepts it without questioning or deviating from it.

That said both Fantasy and Science Fiction are great places to explore how different gender roles would affect a society. So if you have the chance to do it, why not go ahead?
Liz Bourke
28. hawkwing-lb
The professionalisation of armies in the modern period tends to occlude the vital role played by women in support functions. However, I can point you at some sets of memoirs of women in professional military forces between 1700 and 1900 - and where one person is speaking in our historical sources about a social phenomenon, there are twenty or more as a general rule who remain silent.

In a brief survey of reigning monarchs, what value weighting (would you say) do you place upon queens who raised military forces to contest political power with kings? Look at medieval England again in that light. Look a little deeper into the roles and significance women played in military and political power.

Am I saying there were equivalent numbers of female soldiers? No. I am saying that there are far more than are historically acknowledged: perhaps we might say one in ten or one in a hundred, does it matter? The statistics for their participation are unrecoverable, just as what the burial of weapons with elite women in Iron Age grave contexts signifies is open to debate, but it lays the possibility of direct female participation in Iron Age warfare before us. We have epigraphic and literary evidence for a handful of women gladiators even in imperial Rome, after all. As for generals?

I direct your attention to Raziyya al-Din, Sultan of Delhi for four years; Chand Bibi, Regent of Bijapur and Ahmednagar; Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal who held off the Portuguese for several decades; the Rani of Jhansi was only in her early twenties when she died fighting in the Indian Rebellion (better known to the British as the Indian Mutiny).

But in all this, let's not lose sight of the fact that in fictionalised history, names and dates and places don't matter. If the fantasy world is a mirror of our own, a narrative erasure of women is intellectual laziness: but if it isn't?

In fantasy, it is also perfectly possible to say, "Fuck sexism, because magic," given sufficiently rigorous thought. The absence of that thought is also a species of laziness.
Sam Brougher
29. Azuaron
Whenever this conversation comes up, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is brought up, and it makes me want to beat my head against the wall. ASOIAF is the absolute worst thing to bring up to oppose sexist fantasy, because it's the absolute best written fantasy with sexism in it that is not, in and of itself, sexist. Let's go through this step by step:

ASOIAF is a retelling of The Wars of the Roses, and uses actual people, events, and societies as a baseline for the fantasy world and plot. This specificity is, already, so much different from the general, "Medieval Europe was sexist so it's okay that this fantasy is sexist," argument as to make that argument irrelevant. This is a specific fantasy retelling of specific events in a specific society, so it must portray that society as accurately as it can.

Anyway, while there's a whole mess of sexism and violence against women in ASOIAF, that's not all there is. Women in SOIAF are queens, warriors, assassins, politicians, spies, priestesses, warlords, and magic users. They aren't invisible. There aren't there just to be doing something related to something men are doing or to be victimized (any more than anyone else, anyway). They are their own characters doing what they want to be doing.

The entire character of Cersei Lannister is a commentary of a strong-willed woman fighting against the restrictions placed upon her by society because of her gender. She literally runs Westeros for about a book and a half as "queen-regent" despite these restrictions.

The entire character of Daenarys Targaryian (which, admittedly, has been butchered by the HBO show--HBO also butchered Jon Snow so at least they're equal opportunity ruiners) is a commentary of what a strong-willed woman can do when her society is not placing as many restrictions upon her.

The entire Lannister family is a commentary on the simple importance of mothers. Their mother died giving birth to Tyrion, and Tywin was not up for being a single father. Contrast with the Stark family having a good mother in Catelyn.

Have this debate. I am firmly on the stance of more women in fantasy, and better written women in fantasy. But use good examples. A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of fantasy writing sexist societies well, and writing women well, and doing everything we should want from our fantasy writing when it involves sexist societies.
fizzel
30. TBGH
@28
I wasn't trying to weight anything with regards to monarchs. Just looking at how many men and how many women have held the throne.

As for soldiers, I think we're pretty close in agreement. I understand women traveled with armies and maybe 1/100 to 1/10000 of those fighting would be women. Either way, we agree there were always some women fighting, though they were outnumbered nine to one at least by the men.

For generals, I was surprised you didn't mention Boudica as she's always the first female general that comes to mind for me. But still, I don't see a reason they wouldn't be similarly outnumbered by the men as the common soldier.

My point remains, that there were historical causes for these trends. If I see a story that uses "poof magic" to erase the inequality, I have no problem with it. See my earlier reference to WOT. And also please notice, I am not saying women should be portrayed as less important in the protagonist's life or not be the protagonist. If however, the author just ignores the issue of sexism in primitive society entirely and gives no reason why these trends were bucked, I have a problem with that world-building.
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
For a good idea of what non sexist fantasy can look like, check out Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. Primary protagonist and antagonist for the first trilogy series are women, the queen is a woman, hell the primary character is a prostitute/spy. These people struggle with sexism, but this is not a world we could recognize as our own.
fizzel
32. Mary Beth
This is one of the reasons I love wuxia and historical kdramas (sageuk). Sexist societies, oh sure. But you better believe those Chinese and Korean movies and dramas are filled with far more female characters who DO things (even political things!) than any American TV show or movie ever has.

I can't read Mandarin or Korean, so I don't know if the same extends to their books, but the one wuxia novel I did read in translation did a pretty good job of incorporating women as agents in their own right.
fizzel
33. Biscuit
TBGH - you're arguing with regards to VISIBLE male leaders/contribution in society, and completely missing the point Tansy is making in her article. Women were deliberately made invisible, therefore you cannot conclude from written history, as written by a patriarchal society, the actual contribution women made.

I really do not understand this insistence that fantasy worlds must adhere to the way human society developed. It smacks very much of the patriarchy, ho ho, again, writing the rules on what is culturally acceptable in our art and literature.
fizzel
34. DRitchey
Some noteable (and successful!!) F&SF tales which explore women's roles in which their sex doesn't matter or no-longer matters:

David Weber's Honor Harrington Universe
Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarion
Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe

In fact in the last referenced series, there is a recurring group of matriarchal societies that refuse to have dealings of any kind with anyone who is not matriarchal. These situations are ripe with observations about cutting off one's nose to spite the face.

F&SF are wonderful genres to explore and flesh out the What ifs of other ways of doing things and the points of view that let you see both the effect on the locals and make observations on the suitability of those differing ways of acting (slavery, single sex societies, perpetual childhood, dystopic failures and utopian societies where the wheels are wearing out). Differences are Interesting!
Jenny Kristine
35. jennygadget
* joins the appluase *

* adds some for Fade's comments *

Azuaron @ 29

Anything that has omniscient breasts is sexist by definition. I will give you that ASOIAF is not the absolute worst out there, but if it's the gold standard for non-sexist fantasy, we are in deeper shit than I thought.

Adrian Charles @ 24

"To my understanding, the majority of fantasy readers are women, though I believe that many men presume otherwise..."

Yup. And it's very meta-fail to "presume otherwise" in the comments of a post about how women are made invisible through the writing of history by men. :)
fizzel
36. TBGH
@33
There are women behind the scenes in history, but why wouldn't there be just as many or more men behind the scenes? A full actual accounting of cause and effect is too complex to teach so we limit it to just the most important people and factors. I'll fully acknowledge that women are underrepresented, but women to have really had anything approaching parity in power with men would have to be victim to a mind-numbingly vast number if misrepresentations and lies from all historians rather than a simple gender bias.

As for why fictional societies must follow our societal history for me to enjoy it, because they're supposedly still made up of people! If you change the conditions of society to make it less dependant on physical labor or give some other reason why women were deemed more suited to hold power than men, fine. But if you write it as people just aren't sexist here despite all the causes being there, then to my mind they're not real people and the story loses something.
fizzel
37. John Bilodeau
Great article.

these type of discussions can be strangely challenging. People get defensive so quickly and really want to avoid becoming uncomfortable with the material.

I don't really see how anyone can seriously argue with simple statements about history and fiction writing like the article above does but, of course, you see it every time.
Mari Ness
38. MariCats
I just wanted to add a quick follow up on the women performing rituals in the Roman period.

Decades back, it was assumed - and stated in textbooks written in English -- that women did not perform on the stage in Rome or in Roman cities. For several different reasons: 1, it was known that women did not perform on the stage in Renaissance England, 2, when women did perform on the stage starting in the Restoration period, it was held to be either a sign of how wonderful and marvelous the Restoration period was for such marvelous stage innovation, or how awful and terrible it was that women were performing on the stage and how this showed just how much society was going downhill. (Obviously viewpoints kinda differed on this one.) But for both groups, it was very important to present women on stage as something entirely new.

Skip ahead several centuries, and suddenly, additional research showed that women did perform in medieval plays in certain eras and places (not universally.) Skip ahead a bit more, and suddenly we find archaelogical evidence that yes, women may very well have performed on stages throughout the Roman Empire. (The Romans were not, as a group, terrifically good at leaving lists of their star performers, in the absence of an IMDB. Bad Romans!)

Historians had assumed the absence of women from the stage because that was part of the story they were trying to tell -- the changes that Restoration England had brought to society (good/bad). Because if women had been on the stage more or less all along, then the Restoration looks a lot less innovative/destructive, doesn't it?

And that's just one minor example of many.
Ashley Fox
39. A Fox
Interesting article.

for those speaking of historical accuracy and the placement of women, check this out:

http://www.lothene.demon.co.uk/others/women.html

Its a century by century look, in brief segments, of the various "masculine" roles that women have fulfilled. It clearly highlights that what is percieved as 'historicaly accurate' is in fact not, but rather a product of partriarchal editing (as others have eloquantly spoken of). It rather underscores @1 fadeaccompli's example with other, numerous, examples of how, and what, these women did even in repressive socities. So, when all that is ignored it rightly leaves many people flabbergasted when the lauded 'historical accuracy' is cited as the reason. I have posted this link on a few articles here, but it is a very interesting read (and good launching point for further research/inspiration).

Male readership. A little while ago I inboxed Tor over on facebook asking them to conduct a poll on the gender of their readers. And whether they prefer reading characters of their own/opposite/simply well written gender/s. I am genuinely curious. do you think this could happen? I thought FB would be a good way as friends of those who 'like' Tor would also perhaps see/choose to participate.
fizzel
40. rfloh
@qbe64
"
. The majority of sci-fi/fantasy readers are men. I'm sure the spread has narrowed in recent years, but I believe thats still true (probably in no small part to the lack of quality female characters in fantasy)
"

As many have pointed out already, where is the evidence for this claim?

To even start to show evidence for this claim, or to show evidence against this claim, you first need to first define what you mean by "sci fi / fantasy".

Do you consider paranormal / urban fantasy, eg Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books "sci / fantasy"? Is Harry Potter fantasy, to you? Stephenie Meyer's books, are they fantasy to you?

"
2. As a man, I prefer my leads to be male. Since I have no experience being a women, I can better appreciate and relate to a well written male character, than an equally well written female one.

3. I would rather read fantasy about characters that I can relate to/identify with than ones I cannot, and therefore as a male, would rather read stories with male leads.

"
The key parts here are "I prefer", "I would". You are making lots of claims, about the preferences of other people, based on nothing more than your personal preferences.

"
Speaking in generalities will obviously result in some opinions not fitting the consensus. I'm not saying that there aren't men who prefer reading female characters, but I believe the majority prefer male leads.
"

No, the problem with your arguments is not that you're generalising. It is that you're generalising based on your own personal preferences. Generealising is fine, if for example, you make your generalisations based on sample survey of spec fic readers.

"
4. Writers of fantasy, male or female, want to make money.
"

Indeed. For example, J K Rowling has made A HUGE TON of money. Similarly, Stephenie Meyer.

"
So, if the majority of the demographic you're writing for is male, and males better identify with male characters and you want to maximize your audience to make the most money, there is going to be a larger focus on male in fantasy. And it's not based on history, its based on economics.
"

You are making a very basic logical error. You have done nothing to show that each of your assertions are true, nothing to test whether they are true, you are simply assuming that they are, and then trying to string them together into a conclusion.
fizzel
41. Eithin
@TGBH - regarding parity in power, part of the point is that "power" is defined around what's considered important, and that the people doing the defining are & have almost universally been men.

As for societies being dependent on physical labour, there are a lot of those around today, and most of it is women's labour, since women generally need to manage the home as well as working in the fields or fetching water. The idea that men are inherently stronger or more capable of labour is a Western fallacy. (If you're interested in a book that debunks this, Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender is a good accessible read by a working scientist.)

I recall a section in one of Mercedes Lackey's Arrows books, too, where a character reflects that another "clearly hadn't noticed that half the peasants working in the fields weren't men" - this is what happens when people just get on with things, and the people inclined to record events do so through their own cultural prejudices regarding what's important. It becomes a habit, and reinforces the ingrained bad history.

*more applause for this post*
John McClay
42. jmcclay3
I think it's hard for a lot of writers to imagine a world where women aren't marginalized or at least a world where there is no sexism. This is because we are all raised in a world where we are conditioned and taught that men and women have certain kinds of roles that they have to stick to. It's funny because when you think of fantasy, you think of words like "creativity" and "imagination," but sadly most of these fantasy authors are showing little of both when writing female characters. The best way to approach women in fantasy is to simply not address it at all. Make it a non-issue.
J M
43. psychoferret
Dear Sexists,
Stop trying to defend you're indefensible opinions. It lowers the quality of the debate. Just go away. You people aren't wanted around here. (I stole that line from my racist neighbor :D )
Love,
Jim

PS: Did anyone else just start scanning the posters names to see all fadeaccompli's burns? I did. They were awesome.
fizzel
44. princev4liant
qbe_64: As a man, I prefer my leads to be male.


Fadeaccompli: As a man, my husband prefers that the leads in stories he reads be female. So, what, do you cancel each other out? Or fight? Or does he go sit in a special box for men who aren't being targetted properly by Marketing?


***

You win the internet. Thank you for making sense.

Also, I will from now on be referring "to special boxes where people who aren't being targeted properly by Marketing must sit". I will credit you as "Awesome Person on the Interwebs" unless you have another preferred title of honor.
John McClay
45. jmcclay3
Oh and while were championing more decent female characters in fantasy, can we also throw in some gays? I'm tired of all the straight people.
Liz Bourke
46. hawkwing-lb
jmcclay 3 @45:

*definitely supports more lesbians and non-binary-gendered persons*
S Cooper
47. SPC
So really all we're asking is that an author, when writing historically-influenced fiction, make a conscious decision whether to respond to the best-known historical primary sources and the narratives that we have built over time based on those, or whether to respond to history as it actually happened, with people of all categories and descriptions actually present and contributing to the ongoing functioning of society in various ways? I can get behind that. I would think that conscious writing and the examination of assumptions should only lead to the author having a better toolbox to tell the story they want to tell. Whatever that story should happen to be.
Sam Brougher
48. Azuaron
@jennygadget #35: "Anything that has omniscient breasts is sexist by definition."

Not only do I contest that (what does omniscient breasts have to do with sexism? Wouldn't giving breasts--one of the symbols of womanhood--omniscient powers be progressive?), but when does that happen? Did I miss that part, or is it in A Dance With Dragons, which I haven't read yet?

Or are you using a strange term that means something other than what the words it's composed of would indicate and which I'm not familiar with?
fizzel
49. kimikimi
And while we're making a wish list, can we add people from non european backgrounds as leads? I know it's done a little, but I'd like to see a lot more.
Ann Leckie
50. hautdesert
"As for societies being dependent on physical labour, there are a lot of those around today, and most of it is women's labour, since women generally need to manage the home as well as working in the fields or fetching water."

Just thought that needed some extra highlighting. Fact is, whether or not men are generally physically stronger than women, women are physically capable of a lot more than some folks seem to realize. Even when that fact is staring them in the face--I guess Rosie the Riveter, and all those women in the fields and such are just "exceptions" and so they don't count. After all, if they did count, someone might have to reconsider their assumptions!

Oh, and all those hunter gatherer societies where Big Strong Men hunt and the women stay home and tend the babies? Don't actually exist either.
fizzel
51. KevinB
@qbe_64 Even if it was true that writing books with female protagonists is financial suicide, how would that have anything to do with treating all the female characters surrounding your protagonist as people? That was the point of the article.

Just as another anecdotal datapoint: As a male, I honestly don't know if I prefer one gender over another for my protagonists. It all depends on the character. I can say though that my top 10 of favorite protagonists contains more women than men.

One of them is Sasha from the A Trial of Blood and Steel tetralogy. A series that IMO does a lot of things right regarding the complexity of civilisation and how it is influenced by all sorts of motivations both political and personal. It also shows how a woman can make her own way in a number of strongly patriarchal societies.
fizzel
52. Mary Beth
@KevinB

I'd picked up the first book of that A Trial Blood and Steel series at a library book sale for $0.50, but it's been lingering at the bottom of my TBR pile while I try to decide whether or not I'll like it. With that recommendation, I may move it closer to the top!
Kevin Marks
53. KevinMarks
Another, possibly simpler argument. You know the two best-selling fantasy authors? Yes, Rowling and Pratchett. Notice how central women are to their fiction?
Liz Bourke
54. hawkwing-lb
KevinMarks @53:

Sir Terry is one of the few fantasy writers, it seems, comfortable putting old women in positions where they can bring the badass smackdown.

(Never leave us, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.)
Ben Goodman
55. goodben
What exactly is the point of this arguement?

Is this an arguement that:

Authors shouldn't write books that don't conform to modern sensabilities?

Readers shouldn't read/enjoy books that don't conform to modern sensabilities (regardless of when they were written)?

Readers shouldn't defend books they enjoyed because they don't conform to modern sensabilities?

Or is it just that you despise the "fantasy is all about white men because it's based on medieval Europe" apology?

Because I'd agree that the last is silly. Formulaic fiction is inherently inferior to fiction with an original hook/plot/characterization. It's the twists and turns that make it interesting. The most interesting parts of history are the "That really happened? I couldn't have invented a better twist" parts, not the "Oh yeah, that guy did that like I totally expected him to" parts. I mean who's more interesting/compelling Joan of Arc or her English counterpart that no one remembers?

That said, does every story have to break all the molds? Should every story be written for you? If you feel like no stories are being written for you, do you have the right to demand that a author write one for you? There are enough stories out there (in various forms) that I don't think there are any niches left unfulfilled. Are you offended that some niches exist (and may be published)? Or is your arguement with the mainstream publishers? I'd point out that Baen (arguably the most male-oriented of the major genre publishers) also publishes Shards of Honor by Bujold (compotent, realistic female protagonist sticking it to a highly patriarchal society written by a female author) and the Honor Harrington books by Weber (compent female protagonist from a gender-agnostic culture written by a male author) . Is your beef with them? Tor? Del Rey? Ace? DAW? Some publisher I'm forgetting?

If the point is to pile on someone because they enjoy or like Ivanhoe, the Swiss Family Robinson, or some modern so-called problematic work, please stop. It's not like some one else enjoying a book hurts you.
fizzel
56. Biscuit
"but women to have really had anything approaching parity in power with men would have to be victim to a mind-numbingly vast number if misrepresentations and lies from all historians rather than a simple gender bias."

Bingo!

""power" is defined around what's considered important, and that the people doing the defining are & have almost universally been men."

There's the answer. Also, sexism is not a simple line - it's implicit, explicit, consciously exclusionary, and socially ingrained unconscious actions, as well as intersectional (with class, race, sexuality, disability etc). It's a huge thing to unpack.

"what does omniscient breasts have to do with sexism?"

Azuaron: Google "omniscient breasts in fiction" and you'll come across some great articles that explain this phenomenon. It's a technique, mostly used by male writers, that pose a woman character as a sexual object first and not a fully formed human being, using her breasts to guide her physical description and how she moves about the world eg: "her breast heaved", "pale breasts gleamed in the moonlight as she glided across the courtyard". It's a very male gaze-y technique.
fizzel
57. Russ Allbery
Men who say they prefer the leads in books to be men have never made any sense to me. I'm male, I've read a lot of books, over a lot of years, through a lot of different places in my life and different outlooks on life, and I can't ever remember that being a thing that mattered to the story. I can remember having to fight some stupid socialization as a kid, and I remember avoiding some books with female leads only because that was a marker (in a particular era of book) for subject matter that my twelve-year-old self wasn't interested in reading, but even those were rare events.

The Nancy Drew series was considerably better, objectively, than the Hardy Boys series: better written, better plotted, and more interesting (not that either of them were great literature). I knew that when I first read them as a kid and sought out the Nancy Drew books for that reason.

Why do any men think this is such a big deal? As a boy, there were male role models all over the place. It's not like I would feel omitted from the world by reading a book centered around a female lead. More often, the book was more interesting because the lead was different and more intriguing than the typical male character.

I continue to read lots of books with female leads and don't understand why any man would care. Female SF readers have been reading books with male leads for decades and don't seem to have this huge problem that men supposedly have with identifying with leads of the opposite gender. And women, unlike us, do have the problem of not appearing in fiction and the frustrations that come along with that, which makes that reading protocol harder.

Male leads for male readers is a complete non-issue. I want to read books about interesting people. Frequently, having them be female is a good initial sign for being more interesting; the writer has already avoided one stereotype, which is a good sign for the further thoughtfulness of their characterization.
Brandon Lammers
58. wickedkinetic
@35 - I totally missed the omniscient breasts in GoT - granted I haven't watched the HBO version so perhaps you're opinion is based on the show (which clearly panders to modern sexpectations of gratuitous graphic female nudity on any HBO/Showtime/Skinemax show....)

I definitely advocate for more diversity in fiction - diversity in writers and characters - imagine living in a world where an non-white non-male- non-straight protagonist didn't instantly re-define the book into some LBG genre as opposed to the genre the story actually fits....

- if we could build/re-educate/design a generation of writers to have all cutting-edge open-mindedness of feminism and diverse experiences and multi-cultural awareness we would have an incredible body of fiction that would then shape future writers along the same direction...

unfortunately we have to settle for writers that are human beings - and human beings are going to have bias - they are going to have ignorance - any given writer may or may not have experience, understanding, and awareness of racism, sexism, LBGT issues, misogyny, etc. furthermore, as artists and creators I would rather they write the best story they know how - and not redesign the story they want to tell to satisfy modern cultural ideology.... on the other hand, I'm wondering if the true villain is not the publishers and editors who decide what to publish - the silly idea that only boys read sci-fi so sci-fi should all be stories about boys written by boys should have been debunked 50 years ago... I understand that inherent chauvanism existing in the 50's and 60's when it was still prevalent on TV and in movies and culture in general... but I believe there are plenty of diverse people writing diverse fiction but that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy where they promote safe white straight writers and stories in genre fiction and use their successes as indicators that this is what people want.....

Charles Stross was my favorite writer for a while - he wrote a SFF series that I found very compelling with a female lead who goes through all manner of unpleasantry... I don't think I'm one to judge whether a woman is written well but as far as I can tell he does a good job with her and other characters.... it is the 'Merchant Princes' series, starting with
The Family Trade - and the story cleverly transplants a modern, educated, sane feminist into a patriarchal misogynistic medieval society. it takes the classic meme of regular-girl finds out she's secretly a princess in some alternate magical universe... and makes it into a terrorizing thriller - I thoroughly enjoyed the story and hope he works more in that world some day - but it also offered me great education and insight on the plight of women both in modern day society and back in the medeival times... (he's on record as hating fantasy because as an Englishman who knows his country's history - he is very aware that King's and Monarchy and the romanticized legends of King Arthur are all lies and misrepresentations, and times back then were pretty horrible for all but a handful of nobility and other wealthy sorts...) which leads me back to Game of Thrones - I think this series captures perfectly the unfortunate and terrible things that happened to people in all walks of life in the War of the Roses era - yay Monarchy...

I guess I'll stop here before rambling off on a 9th tangent
Ann Leckie
59. hautdesert
"I would rather they write the best story they know how - and not redesign the story they want to tell to satisfy modern cultural ideology...."

Nobody's asking anyone to warp their creations so they can be all PC. What the article above is asking for is for folks to stop defending sexism and misogyny in fantasy with the excuse that "history is just like that, I couldn't portray this historical period faithfully otherwise" because that's complete bull.

And there's no such thing as a story that does not endorse some cultural ideology or other. There just isn't. If you write a story that endorses a particular ideology, and someone calls you on it, either own it or try to make your stories say what you want them to say.
Liz Bourke
60. hawkwing-lb
hautdesert @59:

Well said.

And there's no such thing as a story that does not endorse some cultural ideology or other.

This? A vitally important point.
Fade Manley
61. fadeaccompli
princev4liant @44: Also, I will from now on be referring "to special boxes where people who aren't being targeted properly by Marketing must sit". I will credit you as "Awesome Person on the Interwebs" unless you have another preferred title of honor.

Aw, you are too kind. I will totally accept that title! But only if you agree to pretend that I spelled "targeted" correctly in my original comment. (For shame, spellcheck! Why did you not save me?)

---

...my goodness, I have missed a lot in this comment thread. This is what happens when I have to leave in the middle of an interesting discussion to go study Greek. (Electra was busy singing about the woes of her ancestors. A lot of men making bad decisions, and a lot of women doing the same. No one escapes the Stupid Fated Decision Lottery when it comes to Greek tragedy!)

---

goodben @55: That said, does every story have to break all the molds? Should every story be written for you? If you feel like no stories are being written for you, do you have the right to demand that a author write one for you?

Now you're just being silly.

Do you see us forming up in mobs to break down the door of Yet Another Story About Dudes Being Dudely In Pseudo-Europe to demand that author write something different? (If so, why has no one told me about these parties?) No. Do you really think that people are demanding that EVERY SINGLE STORY be written specifically to their tastes? Because I assure you, I have enough on my to-read list already; every piece of new fiction released in a single year was written exactly to my preferences, my goodness, how would I get any homework done?

And to back up, "break all the molds"? Really? REALLY? You're going to take the idea that women should be, preferably, written in a way that is somewhat representative of how women really are and were as an example of throwing everything that has been written before to the winds?

I mean. My god. This is not an essay demanding that from now on EVERY BOOK EVER must be written on the tanned hides of skunks in mulberry ink, entirely in cretic feet (which are a royal pain to represent in English, I assure you), concerning only the adventures of agendered magical viziers searching for the Lost Metatextual Analysis. Because that would probably be mold-breaking, aside from the standard quest format.

Your argument is silly because you're taking a rather simple and moderate premise--"Women have done an awful lot more than many people realize, historically. You cannot accurately use BUT HISTORY as a defense for writing in a way that claims otherwise"--and declaring that it's some wild, extreme call to arms.

Look. If you want to read sexist literature, that's fine. There's a lot of it out there! You're not going to run out any time soon! We're not going to go force people to write non-sexist literature, because we do not actually have a secret club for chaining authors to desks and making them write something other than what they want! (Again, if anyone knows otherwise: call me!) I will not call Euripides' Orestes a model of feminism, and if I thought no one should ever read it again because it was ~~sexist~~ I wouldn't have just spend a few thousand dollars and fifteen hours a week for this entire semester working on that play alone.

Pretending that your steady supply of sexist literature is under serious attack because a few people stood up and said "Actually, this isn't perfectly realistic," is insulting. If you want to have your arguments taken seriously, make serious arguments that deal with the facts at hand.

Or at least make your wild, radical, unrealistic claims funnier. Funny is good too.
Beccy Higman
62. Jazzlet
@41 Eithin and @50 hautdesert Absolutely!

@17 TBGH In refering to males being stronger than females you are making a common error about how that converts into physical labour. There are differences between the sexes, but generally they are not as simple as you suggest. Historically there are a lot of places where whole families were hired for things like mining. The women mostly did surface work because the older ones also looked after the younger children, but they and older girls would break the ore that their fathers dug and their brothers lugged out of the mine - certainly not light work!
Ben Goodman
63. goodben
Quoth hautdesert:
And there's no such thing as a story that does not endorse some cultural ideology or other.

Portraying is not the same as endorsing. Sticking with the familiar is also not an indication that an author dislikes the different.

Does lazy or shoddy world-building completely ruin a story? For example, David Eddings's Belgariad: the world is full of stereotypes (all people within the races behave fairly uniformly--or at least the "NPCs" do: all Drasnians are greedy and sneaky, all Nyissans are stoned and spineless), however, I found the books enjoyable and charming despite their glaring faults.

Does all fiction need to be serious about The Issues?
fizzel
64. Dedic8ed
I'm sensing a bit of a tempest in a teapot here. All the points made in the main article are definitely true... but on the other hand, I'm trying to figure out what books are being spoken about here. ASoIAF and WoT have powerful female viewpoints (and powerful leadership in womens' hands in Cersei, the White Tower, and even in the Forsaken), while you also find the same in the Malazan Book of the Fallen and books by other authors such as John Abercrombie and Robin Hobb. Sure, go back to "classic" fantasy (Moorcock, Lieber, Burroughs, Howard) and female characters are almost exclusively eye candy or damels in distress, but I'd say the standard is more often than not to have strong females characters and characterization (with Rothfuss being one notable exception, but it doesn't seem willful in his case). Is the issue really that female characters aren't being given a fair shake, or that authors aren't engaging in feminist wish fulfillment in the creation of their fictional societies? ...as for the percentage of readership statistics being thrown about, let's also remember that according to Barnes and Nobles' website, Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse count as "fantasy", despite being nothing of the sort. Of course, that entire argument is somewhat silly to begin with, as it has to be admitted that a good story with strongly written female characters is going to draw casual female readership, regardless of whether it's actually good or not (Hunger Games, anyone?).
Fade Manley
65. fadeaccompli
goodben @63: Does all fiction need to be serious about The Issues?

I begin to believe you're actually trying to post on some other comment thread entirely, as you keep arguing against positions that no one here has actually stood up to hold.

However, on the off chance that you're in the right place, I will answer you seriously:

No. Not all fiction has to be serious about The Issues. A great many books can be frivolous and fluffy, about The Issues or otherwise. Some books are, in fact, so wildly care-free that they never even realize any of The Issues are around or need to be capitalized portentously. And I, for one, will argue in favor of books that are not serious about The Issues.

Not really sure what The Issues are, but by god, I reserve the right to not write a serious book about them. And no one can make me! Ha! I even own several books--ones already published, in my possession right now--which are not serious about The Issues, and no one has yet threatened to take them out of my hands.

Shocking. But true.

Meanwhile, I may go back to discussing with some people the annoyance factor of specific other books which claim they're being very serious about The Issues of sexism, but are clearly perpetuating inaccurate stereotypes based on a reading of history that ignores the choices made by those people who actually created or preserved the historical record as such. It is an annoying issue, it's true, but some books manage to do better with it than others. I imagine in the future a great many more books will continue do silly things like the ones mentioned above, but perhaps some other books will do better. I like it when books surmount failures of the past. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside.
Ann Leckie
66. hautdesert
"Portraying is not the same as endorsing. Sticking with the familiar is also not an indication that an author dislikes the different."

No one here said either thing. But portraying, being called on the implications of the choices you've made in executing that portrayal, and then insisting it's just because that's how the world actually is? Is endorsing.

Just like there's no such thing as ideology-free fiction, there's no such thing as a neutral portrayal. Any given portrayal of, say, monarchy doesn't necessarily imply support of monarchy. But some portrayals do--and if the author is truly not pro-monarchy she'd do best to rethink how she's portrayed monarchy in her fiction (even if she ultimately disagrees with the asessment), rather than insist that hers is just a value-free picture of how monarchy really is, and she can't help it if it looks nobler than democracy. And it's hardly surprising if such a defense might leave her listeners suspicious of the sincerity of her avowed love for democratic systems.

Really, this is not that hard a concept to grasp. And the article above is pretty clear.

"For example, David Eddings's Belgariad: the world is full of stereotypes (all people within the races behave fairly uniformly--or at least the "NPCs" do: all Drasnians are greedy and sneaky, all Nyissans are stoned and spineless), however, I found the books enjoyable and charming despite their glaring faults."

There is a difference between "this story has problems, and trying to defend those problems with a specious argument won't fly" and "no one should ever enjoy these stories." Pop quiz--which one describes the article above?

"Does all fiction need to be serious about The Issues?"

All fiction is about The Issues. That is inescapable. Whether any particular fiction is serious about them is another matter. Any author attempting to write story that is not, in fact, about any Issues at all is fooling herself.

Said it before and I'll say it again--the article above--and its supporters in this comment thread--have nowhere asked for people to write in particular ways about particular issues. The request is, rather, to stop using an at best ignorant and at worst dishonest defense of writing misogyny and sexism. Wanna write sexist fantasy? Do it! But own it, don't throw up your hands and sigh because you can't help the fact that women are insignificant and helpless, you're just being realistic, not sexist.
Pamela Adams
67. Pam Adams
let's also remember that according to Barnes and Nobles' website, Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse count as "fantasy", despite being nothing of the sort

How not? Personally, I haven't seen many vampires, whether sparkly, sexy or both running around lately.
Athena Andreadis
68. AthenaAndreadis
A few random points, since I've covered this ground multiple times in discussions, essays, whathaveyou. Those who argue that:

1. "women are rarely soldiers" are thinking of conquering armies. Women have always made a very significant portion of resistance forces in cases of occupation.

2. " women cannot be important in societies based on physical labor" haven't lived in such societies. Women have always done most of the physical labor, including (especially) hard physical labor.

3. "ASOIAF has positive female role models" should read Sady Doyle's analysis.

4. " classical Greece was horribly sexist" are thinking exclusively of circum-Periclean Athens. Sparta, Lesvos and Ionia treated women very differently (for different reasons).

5. "you can only identify with a literary protagonist of the same gender as yourself" are wrong. Women identify with heroes of any and all genders when they read. You actually have to make a conscious effort to discriminate by gender (however defined) when you admire a character.

@ #64, Dedic8ed: ever heard of grittygrotty (aka grimdark) epic fantasy which is currently de rigeur among boys of all ages?
fizzel
69. Sean the Bookonaut
@Dedic8ed

I don't think there's a tempest in a teapot. Tansy is merely calling to attention that defending Sexism in a fantasy with the "historically accurate" defense is silly and belies are misunderstanding of history and how its constructed. Now I have heard it/read it (not here) raised in regard to Martin by readers so I think its a valid/worthy point to put forward.
Or were you refering to the comments which I think are pretty good
Is the issue really that female characters aren't being given a fair shake, or that authors aren't engaging in feminist wish fulfillment in the creation of their fictional societies?
I'd go with the first. Tansy's own stories are a good example of female characters being given a fair shake in male dominated world and they are all the more interesting and fresh for it.
fizzel
70. Emélie
This cracks me up, because if you're writing a fantasy novel, you've presumably already made some pretty major concessions to historical accuracy. If you've got sexism in your books, I'm hoping it's doing something for the plot, rathern than just being (none-too-tasteful or, honestly, just dull) background scenery. But if my interlocutor is still committed to claiming historical antecedents, my next question is, "Why are you letting dragons past the historical censor, but not female characters?"

(I originally meant that as a snarky quip, but actually I think it encapsulates what this issue is about. Authors are more comfortable letting dragons loose in their plots than they are letting independent, or just interesting, or just any female characters into the fray.)
Ben Goodman
71. goodben
fadeaccompli (61):

Your argument is silly because you're taking a rather simple and
moderate premise--"Women have done an awful lot more than many people
realize, historically. You cannot accurately use BUT HISTORY as a
defense for writing in a way that claims otherwise"--and declaring that
it's some wild, extreme call to arms.

I agree with you: the "but history" excuse is ignorant and irrelevant. It's a very surface (knee-jerk) response to someone complaining about something that they enjoyed. I can see how the lack of thought behind it could be a pet peave.

However, the comments seem to take sexism in SF for a given as if it were common. I think we'd disagree on what was sexist. There are a lot of books, I'd find distateful, but probably not attach that label to.

Does every story need a strong woman? Is it sexist if it doesn't? Is objectifying always sexist? Are the female equivalents (i.e., brainless, brawny, shirtless men--which judging by supermarket book covers are far more prevalent) of sexual objectifying also sexist? It seems to me that for every Horseclans equivalent there are at least 50 bodice rippers.
Liz Bourke
72. hawkwing-lb
goodben @71:

I think we'd disagree on what was sexist.

Do you identify as a woman? Does sexism negatively affect you in your daily life? Constantly? Auditing a woman's experience of sexism is itself a sexist act: it denies the validity of her perceptions and her greater experience of sexism's negative effects.

Does every story need a strong woman? Is it sexist if it doesn't?

Does every story need a man?

Men live surrounded by women whose private work upholds their ability to succeed as public actors. Yet the vast majority of them are capable of dismissing that female presence and female labour as irrelevent when it suits their purposes. Yes, every story needs to acknowledge the presence and actions and influence of women within the social landscape, and yes: it is sexist when it does not.

there are at least 50 bodice rippers

I'm sorry, where is romance relevent to the erasure of women from history at all?
Athena Andreadis
73. AthenaAndreadis
@ #71 goodben:

"Does every story need a strong woman?" Short answer: yes. Longer answer: it seems that your definition of strength is narrow.

"Are the female equivalents of sexual objectifying also sexist?" The answer would be yes, if the two genders were equal in power; but they're not.

"I think we'd disagree on what was sexist." Have you ever experienced sexism yourself? It's in the water, it's in the air, it's in people's bone marrow. And so it's often invisible unless it's blatant. But it's not invisible to those who are subjected to its relentless drizzle.
Jenny Kristine
74. jennygadget
Azauron @ 48 and Biscuit @ 56

Kate Elliot's post in particular explains it well. It also uses GoT as one of the examples (or someone else does in the comments, I can't quite remember).

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2012/09/guest-post-the-omniscient-breasts-by-kate-elliott/

Omniscient breasts is a bit more than just the way female protag's bodies are described though - it also has to do with pov descriptions and the way that female protags will be described this way even when it's the protag's own pov we are getting. It's as if I sat down and described my day by saying "I picked up the stack of books, balancing them against my abundant breasts as I carried them over to the cart." Rather than "I grabbed the stack of books and rushed to story time, running late as always."

Also, to anyone who has said or was about to say "I didn't notice that" - that's the point. Most people don't. Even many women. It's still creepy as fuck.

Also, for the record:

"Wouldn't giving breasts--one of the symbols of womanhood--omniscient powers be progressive?"

NO

goodben @ 63

"David Eddings's Belgariad: the world is full of stereotypes... however, I found the books enjoyable and charming despite their glaring faults."

Good for you. I, however, found them to be increasingly irritating when I was reading them as an older child/younger teen and wondered why the fuck so much of the adult sff was crap (and creepy) compared to what I read when I was little (Lloyd Alexander, Madeline L'Engle).

Furthermore, the fact that - at the time - Eddings and Anthony made up the bulk of the recs I got once I moved onto adult fantasy, I pretty much gave up on fantasy for a while until the internets came along and I was able to find recs from people who also found Ce'Nedra to be the most annoying and least realistic teen girl ever.

Pam Adams @ 67

"How not?"

Well, it has girls. So it must be neither good nor fantasy by definition? I mean, how else do you explain the lack of logic in this sentence:

"...it has to be admitted that a good story with strongly written female characters is going to draw casual female readership, regardless of whether it's actually good or not..."

(emphasis mine)

so...is it good? or is it not good? how can something be a good story but not a good book? Please, oh wise men, enlighten poor female me.

(edited for typos)
Sean Dowell
75. qbe_64
Alright, facts!!

I'm going to use television, since I have no clue where to get facts on readership.
http://www.spottedratings.com/2009/08/gender-in-tv-ratings.html


So, more assumptions.
1. Women, outnumber men substantially in overall viewership. 58%-42%. in 2009. So any show that has a closer spread would skew towards a larger percentage of the male audience viewing that genre of show. Exceptionally rare would be a case where male viewership exceeds female viewership.

http://www.spottedratings.com/2009/08/gender-in-tv-ratings-serializedgenre.html


Lets see the results:
Serials - above mean male viewership
Smallville 58%male - SFF
Terminator:SCC 54%male - SFF (female lead)
24-54%male - greatest male lead of all time (non SFF)
Heroes 51%male - SFF
Chuck 51%male - borderline Sci-fi
Kings 50%male - I don't know what this show is (non SFF?)
Lost 48%male - SFF
Supernatural 48%male - SFF
Dollhouse 47%male - SFF
The Unit 46%male - non SFF
Reaper 46%male - borderline, but well say non-SFF
Fringe 46%male - SFF
Life on Mars 44%male - borderline, but well say non-SFF
Prison Break 44%male - non SFF
House 44%male - non SFF

So 9 of 15 are SFF shows, with another 3 borderline shows. So 60%-80% of shows that are watched by either more men, or more men than an average show are sci-fi/fantasy genre.

Lets check on the women:
Friday night lights 42%male - not SFF
Medium 37%male - not SFF
Harper's Island 34%male - borderline, but not SFF
DH 33%male - ??? no idea what this show is
ER 33%male - not SFF
Ghost Whisperer 32%male - not SFF
Cupid 32%male - not SFF
B&S 28%male - ???? no idea
Ugly Betty 28%male - not SFF
90210 27%male - not SFF
One Tree Hill 25%male - not SFF
Grey's 23%male - not SFF
Gossip Girl 23%male - not SFF
Private Practice 23%male - not SFF

So, two shows that could be fantasy if I knew what they were, but in general 0% of shows watched by average or greater than average numbers of female viewers are in the fantasy/sci-fi genre.

Additionally, while there is crossover, the majority of male preferred shows have male leads, and the majority of female preferred shows have female leads.

http://www.spottedratings.com/2009/08/gender-in-tv-ratings-comedies.html


It should also be noted that the other shows with greater than 50% male viewership are comedies (Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill, Sit down and shut up). I don't know about the last one, but the first four are all centered around a male lead.

So, while TV is not books, and these ratings are US specific, and is three years old, there appears to be a distinct correlation between above average male viewership and SFF shows, as well as male viewership and shows with male leads. Additionally, the same can be said for above average female viewership and shows with female leads.

http://www.spottedratings.com/2009/08/gender-in-tv-ratings-in-conclusion.html

So there you have it. Researched and footnoted.
Alan Brown
76. AlanBrown
Great article, and great discussion. Some random thoughts:
1. Count me among the men who have no problems reading books that feature women as well as men.
2. And count me as someone who finds men that can write good women characters and vice versa. For example, at a very early age, I encountered some great female characters written by James H. Schmitz like Telzey Amberdon, and great male characters written by Andre Norton.
3. Someone above was defending Game of Thrones against charges of sexism. I think that may be a valid point. GRR Martin subjects his female characters to quite a bit of demeaning abuse and humiliation. But he doesn't treat his male characters any better. He is an equal opportunity sadist toward his cast. I have nightmares about waking up and finding I am one of the characters in his books.
4. One of my pet peeves are stories that have lots of action and adventure, but don't feel rooted in reality. The folks in them just run around fighting and questing--they don't have relationships, don't work to build things, don't think about where meals will come from, or take care of homes, don't get sick or take care of others, or any of the other things that are part of pretty much every human life. And many of these things that underpin real life are areas where women have played a large role throughout history. So, I would suggest to writers--don't just put women in stories by strapping a sword on them, and make them an 'honorary guy'--bring women into stories by making your fantasy world a fuller, richer and more realistic environment.
5. For those who don't think women can have interesting lives in a feudal world, I would raise the same name others have raised above--
Eleanor of Aquitaine--what a fascinating women who lived a remarkable life--if I had read it in fiction, I might have thought it a bit too colorful to be realistic.
6. I am currently working on a story that has a a woman character in a pivotal role, but something about her and the story was just not clicking. This discussion made me realize what was wrong, and a way to fix it. So, thanks everyone!
Beccy Higman
77. Jazzlet
@71 goodben "It seems to me that for every Horseclans equivalent there are at least 50 bodice rippers."

That sentence is a good example of the sexist denigration of a genre that is percieved as being for women.
Alan Brown
78. AlanBrown
So, qbe_64, it appears that SF TV show viewership falls within ten percent of an even male/female split, which is hardly compelling. And you have no idea if that correlates to the world of literature. Somehow, I am not coming over to your viewpoint. Researched and footnoted does not mean well researched--I would suggest you have more work to do if you want to prove your point (and somehow, I doubt you can--you are trying to defend some very subjective premises, which may be true from your own perspective, but hardly represent a universal viewpoint).
But keep trying, as alternate viewpoints make for a vigorous discussion, and a vigorous discussion can be very illuminating.
fizzel
79. Sean the Bookonaut
@78. AlanBrown

I for one would appreciate if qbe_64 did go away and research "relevant material" i.e .that which backs up his initial point . Not plaster the discussion with information that if you hold it at a certain angle and squint might, on a windy day, come somewhat near contibuting a relevant point. :)

I am reticent to encourage qbe_64 because it takes the discussion away from the point of the article to be all about men or one man's perception.

But as for the rest of what you said - yeah colour me unconvinced too.
Jenny Kristine
80. jennygadget
I'm going to use television, since I have no clue where to get facts on readership.
You could always go with the stats already provided on sff authors...

As for the stats you give: As much as I'd like to get into the fact that you talk about overall viewership but only give ratios for prime time shows
(or that, by your own logic, women like football more than men do), I'm mostly rolling my eyes at the fact that you are including shows that are near parity - or even skew slightly female! - in your "proof."

Didn't this question of who reads what come up as part of the argument that writers/publishers are merely giving (assumed male) readers/viewers what they want? Does anything that is not highly skewed towards female viewers mean that content should default to male characters, viewpoints, etc? Do women as readers and viewers (with opinions! even) not exist unless we dominate? Because that seems to be what you are arguing - by default if not explicitly. Which has got to be the biggest assumption you are making, and the one that is most clearly lacking in logic and also chock full of sexism.
Kings 50%male - I don't know what this show is (non SFF?)

B&S 28%male - ???? no idea
DH 33%male - ??? no idea what this show is

So there you have it. Researched...
clearly.
Ghost Whisperer 32%male - not SFF
Medium 37%male - not SFF
um, ok

So, on the list of things that are not sff, we have:

-shows about the supernatural (when they don't involve men with guns)
-Twilight
-Charlaine Harris's books about vampires
-Hunger Games?

Anybody else want to add anything to the list?
fizzel
81. Lucia
@5

"1. The majority of sci-fi/fantasy readers are men. I'm sure the spread has narrowed in recent years, but I believe thats still true (probably in no small part to the lack of quality female characters in fantasy)."

Your comment here exactly highlights the whole point of this article.

Women readers of sci fi and fantasy have been, and still are, ignored, therefore it is assumed that women do not read sci fi and fantasy. Therefore, women readers of sci fi and fantasy are unimportant, or in the minority, and thus not worth really paying attention to, and thus are forgotten.

The majority of readers of sci fi and fantasy are, from my understanding of recent research, articles and bookselling trends, women. And the majority of writers are women. Unfortunately, we are still being forgotten, and so you as a man will primarily only see men on the bookshelves.
fizzel
82. RiceVermicelli
qbe_64 @ 75 - you really do not help your point when you leave questions open in your research that could have been answered by 10-15 seconds of googling.

It is pretty easy to conclude that women don't watch SFF if you start out by presuming that anything women watch is not SFF.

Further to that, however, Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill are all fantastic examples of what Tansy is *actually* arguing in favor of. They're stories, which happen to have (some) male protagonists, in which there are also (some) female protagonists, whose viewpoints and concerns are treated with consideration, and with as much realism as is generally on offer in the rest of the show. The majority male viewership doesn't seem to share your distaste for female viewpoints, or it wouldn't be economically viable to tell so many stories about Lisa, Marge, Lois, Luanne and Peggy.

Jennygadget @ 80, to the list of things that are not SFF, per qbe_64, please add "time travel", "the interaction of the mundane and the supernatural", and "Biblical stories re-set in fantasy settings."
fizzel
83. Megpie71
qbe_64 @ 5

Replying to your various points:

1) Could you please provide a cite, or at least a link to something which cites something statistical to support your contention that "the majority of sci-fi readers are men"? Certainly in my immediate family, both my partner and I read science fiction and fantasy. In my birth family, both of my parents read science fiction and fantasy, and both my brother and myself read it. So that's a fifty-fifty split in a two cases, which is more datapoints than you've supplied.

2) As a woman, I would, ideally speaking, prefer my leads to be female. Unfortunately for me, I get to live in a world which defaults to "male", so I got LOTS and LOTS of experience empathising with the masculine point of view in fiction. I learned how to appreciate and relate to male characters (both well written and otherwise) - thus possibly pointing to this as a learned skill, rather than some innate magical quality. I also learned how to live with reading poorly written female characters (as envisaged through the imaginations of men who'd never been women) and accepting that these cardboard cut-outs were the best I was going to get if I went looking for someone to identify with and appreciate.

As other people have pointed out, your preference to read about male characters is just that: your preference.

3) I'd rather read fantasy about characters that I can relate to and identify with too! (What an absolute frackin' surprise! Who could have guessed such a thing?) Unfortunately, since "fantasy and science fiction" appears to have been defined by the marketers as a Boys Club, I have to look hard to find these stories. Here's a hint: quite a few readable and likeable female characters appear in the "urban fantasy" ghetto (because that one tends to be regarded as a subset of "romance" - the genre female readers are supposed to prefer), and with a bit of searching one can find them within mainstream fantasy as well.

4) Oddly enough, the "urban fantasy" sub-genre appears to be doing Very Nicely Indeed, sales-wise. Selling mainly to women, natch. Another genre which appears to be selling through the roof (mainly to women) is the romance genre. So why aren't all these science fiction and fantasy authors who want to make money writing romances for Mills & Boon instead?

Or maybe if you write something people want to read, no matter who the lead is, people (of all expressed genders) will want to read it.

@ 75

I'm going to use television, since I have no clue where to get facts on readership.

Oh, so you're going to compare apples to doughnuts, and use this to explain why apples don't rate highly for things like fluffiness and cinnamon flavour? Riiight.

One thing I'd ask about those stats you're looking at - are the percentages of male viewers the percentage of the total audience viewing TV at all, or the percentage of the total viewership of that show? Because if it's the second, what you're showing is that women actually do watch a lot of science fiction and fantasy TV - they make up near 50% of the audience for EVERY science fiction show you've listed there, and over 50% for a fair number of them.

I ask because you're not making that clear in your figures.
Chris Nelly
84. Aeryl
Somehow this conversation has come back to GoT again. One thing I find absolutely fascinating is that the only reason the story itself exists at all, is because a man went to war to deny a woman her sexual agency.

Sexism and misogyny are wrapped into the very fabric of that story, intentionally, with the purpose of examining and dissecting it, along with feudalism, monarchy, chivalry, and religious faith.
fizzel
85. Edward Conway
You nailed it in point 2. This is, at its heart, all about writing good, well rounded, strong characters. Not doing this is a failure in storytelling.

Strong female characters do not preclude having sexist characters or societies in writing, but they do help show the holes and weaknesses of sexism.
fizzel
86. Patricia Mathews
I was at a media con full of Star Trek fans many years ago. It was obvious, and I think even stated in print somewhere, that the core Star Trek audience was adolescent boys. I was amazed (and pleased, being one myself)at how many of those supposed adolescent boys were middle-aged women!
fizzel
87. TBGH
Wow, I did not expect this to be on the recent comments list when I got back on my computer today. One more comment and then I'm going to leave it alone.

If we're saying that women's importance and power in more primitive societies is vastly understated because of a huge number of misrepresentations and lies by previous generations of historians with (mostly) subconscious sexism, doesn't that itself point to a nearly universal tendency for sexism in non-modern societies?

Either way, despite periods of enlightenment, for most of human history sexism seems to have been a force in nearly every society. If a story has an Athens-like city granting women equality I can buy that. But Athens was notable because it was the exception.

In that regard, I'm glad @41 brought up Marcedes Lackey. I have read the original trilogy multiple times and think Talia is a brilliant character. But note that for all Valdemar's progressiveness, many of the countries surrounding them are NOT so utopian. (Though many move towards Valdemar's point of view in the later books) If everywhere had the same gender awareness (or lack thereof) as Valdemar it would be a much less compelling world.

As for physical labor, I admit I may have significantly overstated that case, but I can't get past the pervasiveness of sexism. There has to be some cause for all of it and whatever that cause may be/have been it appears to be nearly universal.

My lone complaint remains, if the entire fictional world I'm reading isn't sexist in a pre-industrial society, there should be a reason (magical or otherwise) why that humanity is fundamentally different from our own.
Elizabeth Doolin
88. mochabean
@#84
Somehow this conversation has come back to GoT again. One thing I find absolutely fascinating is that the only reason the story itself exists at all, is because a man went to war to deny a woman her sexual agency.

And (to bring this back to the point the OP is making), the truth of that has been obscured by the history told by the men involved.
fizzel
89. J Town
The OP is very thought provoking. I see several good points in the comments, as well. So good stuff, overall.

I have only a few questions/issues (not that anyone cares, but hey that has never stopped me before...)

1.) Point 3 in the OP is just too subjective. Without going into specifics, it's impossible to completely address, but better is still in the eye of the beholder. And, at least for me, writing is very organic. I can't set out to write to a demographic. I write what I feel, what I believe, what speaks to me. Sometimes that communicates well to an audience. Sometimes it doesn't. Now, I can change my beliefs and who I am, over time, and that will happen naturally anyway to an extent. But I think most authors are unlikely to do that over a rebuttal to a rebuttal to a complaint about how they write. Their books are a window into the mind and soul of the author (how big a window depends on the author and the story). Tread carefully when you critique it.

2.) The tone (more in some many of the comments) is very acerbic. That's going to drive more people to naturally object even if they grant the premise. Which is ok if you don't care. If you do, though, then dialing back the scathing responses and giving the benefit of the doubt might help a bit. Not every dissenter is an enemy.

3.) The below quotes from AthenaAndreadis, in response to another commenter:

"Are the female equivalents of sexual objectifying also sexist?" The answer would be yes, if the two genders were equal in power; but they're not.

"I think we'd disagree on what was sexist." Have you ever experienced sexism yourself? It's in the water, it's in the air, it's in people's bone marrow. And so it's often invisible unless it's blatant. But it's not invisible to those who are subjected to its relentless drizzle.

Now, how I read that (which is not the same as necessarily how AthenaAndreadis intended it) is basically as follows:

Since men have sexually objectified women in stories throughout time, it's perfectly fair to say that sexual objectification of men is acceptable while sexual objectification of women is out of bounds. Women have dealt with it long enough, so the concept of fairness no longer applies. Tough noogies to you for being male.

Furthermore, you are male and you will never understand what it is like to be a woman (ok, that's true), therefore your opinion, while amusing, is irrelevant to me (you lost me). You can agree with me, of course, but if you disagree it's because you don't understand. Actual honest, reasoned disagreement will never be valid, because you don't get it and can never get it because men cannot be sexually discriminated against. The End.

Now before we get to the "Never were those arguments stated" portion of the scathing reply, I acknowledge that they weren't stated. Heck, they may not have even been intended. I'm not a mind-reader.
But I feel that those comments just set things up to totally disregard any dissenting opinion from a man. Good for stopping any future discussion. Not great for actually changing opinions, though.
fizzel
90. awightknight
As a man I perfer my main characters to be well written...
alastair chadwin
91. a-j
TBGH@87
"My lone complaint remains, if the entire fictional world I'm reading isn't sexist in a pre-industrial society, there should be a reason (magical or otherwise) why that humanity is fundamentally different from our own."
Why? It's fantasy. that's why. It's the same reason you don't need a biological explanation for dragons and orcs.
The problem here is the assumption that sexism is innate, and you hint that this would be because men are superior in a now unspecified way since the 'physically stronger' argument has been shot down. However, as I understand it, sexism is learnt. Societies have long been sexist because children are brought up to be sexist. Interesting fact, in the 19th century pink was the colour for male babies and blue for female. For some reason it swapped over. So, girls learn to like pink, female babies are not born yearning for it. We are taught to be sexist.

So three cheers for the OP and the Mary Sue article and put me down as a male reader who doesn't have to read about male protagonists. Jo Walton's Among Others? Best novel I've read this year.
fizzel
92. Eric Saveau
"Since men have sexually objectified women in stories throughout time, it's perfectly fair to say that sexual objectification of men is acceptable while sexual objectification of women is out of bounds. Women have dealt with it long enough, so the concept of fairness no longer applies. Tough noogies to you for being male."
...said no one, ever.
Ann Leckie
93. hautdesert
"The tone (more in some many of the comments) is very acerbic. That's going to drive more people to naturally object even if they grant the premise. Which is ok if you don't care. If you do, though, then dialing back the scathing responses and giving the benefit of the doubt might help a bit. Not every dissenter is an enemy."

Ah, the tone argument. My favorite. The thing I love best about it is how even flat out, plainly stating that a problem exists is "acerbic" and might put off potential allies. I'll give you points for avoiding the more usual "angry" but it's the same thing.

So, in order to convince someone to even consider an argument, we have to be sure to make it very softly, with flowers and lots of please and thankyou. At which point, the complaint becomes completely inaudible and these folks we're trying to get to listen to us can safely ignore us. And that turns out to be just the right tone! Funny how that works.

And it's funny how, if I were to slap you in the face, you wouldn't be expected to react calmly and reasonably. Not even if it was accidental. And if I told you I'd be more likely to apologize if you asked me nicely for it, everyone else standing around would think I was pretty out there.

But we're expected to not even be "acerbic" while being daily slapped in the face with piles and piles of sexist crap. Because your feelz might be all hurt by the fact we don't like that too much. And, what, yours matter, but ours don't?

(Meantime, a male ally can post something on the same topic, with exactly the same tone, and be lauded far and wide as being so terribly reasonable, unlike those other shrill, hysterical posts on the same topic. That took exactly the same tone.

Nothing against the allies who do this, it's not their fault and I'm glad they post. But really, it's amazing how different the reactions are.)

So, in summary--tone argument, not as compelling as you seem to think.

Sorry if that was too acerbic for you.
Chris Nelly
94. Aeryl
@ 91, 92, 93

All the thumbs up, ever
Sean Dowell
95. qbe_64
Alright, one more try. – see previous entry @75 for first round of information.
Lets restate the hypothesis.
The majority of SFF readers are male, male readers prefer a male lead (as they can relate more easily than with a female lead), and therefore choose books accordingly. Authors, wanting to cater to the largest audience, write more books with male leads than female leads. Additionally, in general authors can write characters in their own gender, better than characters of the opposite gender.
(I suppose I should change authors, to editors/publishing houses. As I’m sure all authors like to get paid, their primary motivation for writing is not to get paid, it’s to tell a story)

I have not represented or tried to prove any of the following:
Male authors can’t write quality female characters or vice versa.
Female characters are inferior to male characters in fiction.
Anything regarding the gender composition or quality of male vs. female SFF writers.

So, as it was previously mentioned, SFF has not really been defined for the purposes of this debate. Depending on what you decide to include drastically alters my viewpoint.

E.g. When first reading this article, Twilight, Hunger Games and Harry Potter didn’t come to mind as SFF. As there’s no better place to classify them I can’t argue for their exclusion.

Point 1: Majority of SFF consumers are male. Getting gender demographics of readers is beyond my internet searching ability. If it’s out there, I can’t find it. Television ratings of SFF shows are the most analogous representation I can find, if you have something better, please present it.

The inherent skew towards overall female viewers contradicts any argument toward males being the dominant consumer of SFF. But I think the conclusion that can be drawn is that the overall percentage of the male population that prefers SFF is greater than the overall percentage of women who prefer SFF.

E.G.
If all of TV's audience is 200 people. That's 84 guys and 106 girls.
If 100 people watch Smallville and 58% are male.
The 58/84 guys or 69% of total guys watched
and 42/106 girls or 39% of total girls watched

Now without knowing overall totals of each group, you can’t draw a definitive conclusion.

However several people have mentioned that the viewing spread is only around 5%. When you’re dealing with large samples, statistically speaking a 5% spread is huge.

E.g. estimate 440,000,000 SFF readers worldwide.
7 billion people X 74% over 15 X 80% literate = $4.4B literate people X 10% = 440,000,000 people reading SFF. (population, age %, literacy % are facts, nothing found on the overall readership of SFF, could be overstated as LOTR sales are only 150M. Would less than 1/2 of SFF readers own LOTR? I do not know)

So if the split between male and female readers is 55%-45% (10%), that’s 44M additional male readers. Even at 5%, that’s 22M. According to Wikipedia, there’s only 64 books that have EVER sold more than 20M copies. So while I don’t have the information to back it up. If it’s true, it’s an extremely valid point.

So while I’m aware that the remaining points are meaningless without being able to prove the first, onwards we go anyways.

Point 2: Male readers prefer a male lead. Again, going back to the TV data. There were a total of 10 shows in 2009 that had a male audience greater than the female audience.
Smallville – Male lead
Terminator SCC - female lead
24 – male lead
Heroes – ensemble cast
Chuck – male lead, but very strong female lead as well
Family guy – male lead
Simpsons – male lead
American dad – male lead
King of the Hill – male lead
Sit down, shut up – ensemble cast
So of the only ten shows that had greater male viewership than female viewership. 7 had male leads, 1 had a female lead, and 2 has ensemble casts. If anyone can track down gender based ratings for more recent years, please do. But based on that information, male viewers/readers watch shows/read books that have male leads.

Point 3: Authors/editors/publishers want to make money and target the larger audience.I think it’s self-evident they want to make money, as for the larger audience see point 1: unproven.
Liz Bourke
96. hawkwing-lb
The majority of SFF readers are male, male readers prefer a male lead
(as they can relate more easily than with a female lead), and therefore
choose books accordingly

Wrong.

Let me repeat that: WRONG.

There is a slender majority (within 10%) of men writing SFF. Studies have not been done on the gender breakdown of genre readerships, but it is utterly illogical to suggest that there are fewer women reading SFF than writing it. Which means - provided we assume that there are no unconscious biases influencing the gender proportion in published works - the readership breakdown is 55:45 M:F. Which does not represent a significant male majority.

Therefore you are continuously restating a hypothesis that is demonstrably false.
Sean Dowell
97. qbe_64
Bonus point: Male authors write their male characters better than their female characters and female authors write their female characters better than their male characters.I am not an author, but common sense would suggest that it would be easier to write the gender that you’ve had your life experience with.


If you don't like the use of TV ratings to justify position. Then perhaps you will like this.

Book Magazine, now defunct, compiled a panel of 55 authors, literary agents, editors, and actors in 2002 to “rank the top one hundred characters in literature since 1900.” Read more: The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0932846.html#ixzz2EOcRD2DW


Of the top 100 characters, in 83 cases, the gender of the character matched the gender of the author. Only one author with multiple characters has the higher ranked character of the opposite gender. (Atticus Finch, Harper Lee)
Fade Manley
98. fadeaccompli
I see that hawkwing-lb has already adressed the part about "The majority of SFF readers are male," so let me address the following entirely wrong "male readers prefer a male lead" part myself.

You are wrong.

You are very wrong.

To begin with, you're not even quantifying what percentage of male readers you're talking about. You're stating that "male readers" as a group "prefer a male lead" with absolutely not qualifiers.

You know what? I'm not even going to go into what men I know have said to me. I already mentioned that before, and you're still acting as if I'm lying. (Or maybe you think that my spouse, out of some deep political correctness anxiety, carefully stashed dozens and dozens of books with female leads on all his bookshelves, and thumbed through them to make them look well-read, before I ever visited his residence. If so, I gotta say, that is some deep commitment to appearances.) So let's say... sure! Let's pretend I was lying! I totally don't know any men who don't prefer male leads!

So what about all the people in this thread who have said differently?

Do you think every one of them is lying? (About their character preferences or their gender, take your pick.) Do you think they're somehow confused? That they've picked up books with female leads, and only thought they liked those books, when really they were longing, deep down, for aliens and dragons and sentient space ships that were MORE MALE so that they could really identify?

I know that whenever I'm trying to identify with a dragon, I have to double-check its gender portrayal before figuring out if I can really sympathize with it properly.

But I digress. My point is that men--more than one man--several men--several men just out of the small percentage of all men who are reading this post, and deciding to comment on it, and deciding to address this issue--have explicitly stated that they do not have a preference for male leads.

I will simply quote, at this point, what has already been stated with equal accuracy regarding another of your statements: "Therefore you are continuously restating a hypothesis that is demonstrably false."
fizzel
99. Kimikimi
I'd also like to point out that the current research says that while more men prefer to read about their own gender then women do, this is likely because women have more practice at it. It's a learned response, and therefor can be learned by anybody.Wouldn't it be nicer if we all read books about everybody, and felt that they had something to teach us, rather then limiting ourselves to what we already know?
Fade Manley
100. fadeaccompli
Of the top 100 characters, in 83 cases, the gender of the character matched the gender of the author. Only one author with multiple characters has the higher ranked character of the opposite gender.

What the everlasting flying squid-monster does this have to do with the topic of the post we're all commenting on?

Really. What? Does it have anything to do with it? Even if your single point of "evidence", wherein you're drawing a correlation that is NOT CAUSATION were somehow miraculously to be taken as definitive...

What does that have to do with "women in the past did a lot more than history usually says, try to recognize that" as a topic? Anything? Anything at all? Please. Educate me.

I mean, it's not like this is an article saying "all lead characters should be female." So you can't be arguing against that.

And this isn't an article saying "men should write more lead characters who are female." So you can't be arguing against that.

And it's not an article saying "Male authors writing women are reliably in the top percentage of Favorite Characters as selected by some random panel of fifty-five experts chosen by some other publication entirely." So I can't see how you'd be arguing against that, either.

What are you trying to prove, here? And why are you using ridiculous unscientific lists based on a bunch of personal opinions by a small group of people not in this conversation to do so?
Fade Manley
101. fadeaccompli
I'd also like to point out that the current research says that while more men prefer to read about their own gender then women do, this is likely because women have more practice at it. It's a learned response, and therefor can be learned by anybody.

You know, that's an interesting point. All of the men who talk about not being able to identify with female lead characters should have our pity, not our scorn. They received substandard educations, and need the help of the more literate women around them to help them overcome the limitations imposed on them by society.

I, for one, am ready to join a group dedicated to helping men read more books about women. You'd want to start young--it's always easier to learn things when you're young--but just like any other adult literacy program, it's never to late to learn! We could get some nice men who learned to identify with women after sufficient exposure to the right books to make PSAs, and color-code everything in a reassuring blue so that the nervous masculine sensibilities of our target audience are soothed into giving this terrifying new expansion of their minds a shot.

Hm. Could do a Kickstarter campaign, but I'd need to come up with a snappy video and some sort of title for the project. I'll think about it. In the meanwhile, we can just individually do the gentle encouragement towards our miseducated counterparts, and help them in little baby steps towards becoming better readers.
fizzel
102. Eric Saveau
@qbe_64

Your first entry into this thread at #5 led with -
"Based on the following assumptions, which I will readily admit has no concrete evidence behind them"
- at which point nothing that followed was of any value and the best response would be "Thank you; no further questions." And you keep throwing around broad generalizations to which your numbers are, at best, only speciously connected. By now it's difficult to tell what your actual point is, beyond being annoyed that the OP had the audacity to bring up sexism and say that female characters are better when they're believable people rather than just a collection of attributes.

And, to hark back to one of the lines which earned you so much well-deserved disdain: As a man, I prefer my leads to be solid convincing characters with whom I can empathize to a fair degree. Despite being a man, I don't give a damn what gender they are. The character's gender has very little to do with whether I can relate to their experience, values, relationships and decisions. And that's not because I occupy some starry-eyed enlightened position regarding gender issues; it's because I live among other human beings and am not a hopelessly blinkered idiot.

Since you are talking about novels but using television for all your data references (?!?!?) I will venture a bit further afield to flesh out my personal anecdote: Two of my favorite epic sagas are the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series of video games. I played through the entirety of Mass Effect as the female version of Commander Shepard. Why? Apart from the fact that I thought it was cool that I was able to fashion her into a fair likeness of my wife, the most important reason is that the actor who played the role was vastly better than the actor who voiced the male version of the character. Jennifer Hale made Shepard more convincing - and thus relatable - than Mark Meer. I also played the (undeservedly maligned, IMO) Dragon Age 2 twice to experience both genders. In the case of that game, both voice actors were equally good, and so both characters I played were equally relatable.
"Point 2: Male readers prefer a male lead. Again, going back to the TV data."
Does the TV data show what the total number of shows are with a feamle lead versus a male? Does it quantify all the other factors that can make a show successful, such as quality of writers, actors, production values, etc.? No? Then it really doesn't make any sense to broadly conclude that this shows a preference for a male lead. At best, it shows what shows were most highly rated out of what the audience was given to choose from. Twilight aside (and yes, now we're going into movies and novels rather than your preferred TV market), what you reference at your Point 2 gives us an indication of how ratings break down within a media culture that is already known to have a pervasive instutionalized bias towards males, albeit less so than in the past. It tells us nothing about what the audience would choose if they had more to choose from than what they are given. In fact, there's every indication that well-made TV shows with well-developed female characters in leading roles or even as the protagonist are successful at finding and holding an audience; off the top of my head Battlestar Galactica and Continuum come to mind.
Ashley Fox
103. A Fox
"male readers prefer a male lead" Also wrong, or at the very least merely your personal preference and an assumption based on such.. Albeit a small sample; the men posting here have disagreed. Greater figures are unavailable.

( Though I did find this survey. May be worth particiating and keeping an eye out for results: http://s.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22EPJ7ZBNKT)

"Authors, wanting to cater to the largest audience"- for a moment lets pretend your assumption is true. Thats a massive, untapped demographic right there- one that has no inherent reason to be adverse to SFF. So, actually, from a buisness perspective it would make excellent sense to target such a market and loll in the lack of competition and lucrative sales.

"So, as it was previously mentioned, SFF has not really been defined for the purposes of this debate. Depending on what you decide to include drastically alters my viewpoint."

It seems most other posters are embracing it for the umbrella term that it is. And why would it drastically alter? Be careful here I'm catching a hint of gnder stereotyping. Well if we include, say, paranormal romance then of course there will be more women, coz those girls, they LOVE that mushy stuff. There, there pet.

"Television ratings of SFF shows are the most analogous representation I can find"
It is not. In fact TV is in direct competition with literature as a choice of how one spends what little leisure time they have. There's lots of pretty pie charts and essays, specially in light of marketing, all about it.

"The inherent skew towards overall female viewers contradicts any argument toward males being the dominant consumer of SFF"

What now? By 'inherent skew' to what are you refing? This article, and discussion it is involved with? That is not an inherent skew, in fact it is an attempt to rectify a pre-existing skew toward male dominance. It is not about subecting either gender, or raising the issues of one above another, it is directly demanding an equality.

And yes that includes rep in enequal societies. Look at my previous post/link and the many other examples from other posters. even in such circumstances women extisted, they tioled, they held power an no, they did not always bow down to their societies expectations. They had opinions, beliefs, skills and used those embracing what means as necessary to achieve this. There was the earlier contntion of women on the war front: Many women pretended to be men to enable them to enlist, quite a few were discovered during their service...and continued to seve openly as a woman. Others gender was discovered upon death, or punishments such as whippings.

So. Women did stuff, despite their restrictions. What is considered femine has a habit of changing over time, and is more often than not a state that is defined by men. Women do stuff, like read.

Oddly, I do think this problem is one that is more pronounced in the USA. In the uk books that come out have a lot of female leads and are written by women. I'd say at least half, maybe more. Some from UK, USA, Australia. But it does seem like more books are male orientated that come from the USA. These are not actual figures, of course, just observations.

Here's another one when looking at demographics for books already written, and previous purchasing power. It was male dominated. Since the 70's women have been slowly creeping up the income ladder enabling them to have an ever increasing purchasing power. The fight for greater equality also see's the decline in male gatekeepers enabling women to have ever increasing chances of getting published. These things must be considered. The 'By men, for men' idea is extremely out dated.
fizzel
104. Eric Saveau
@qbe_64 -
"I am not an author, but common sense would suggest that it would be easier to write the gender that you’ve had your life experience with."
No. A world of no. What common sense would suggest is that it is easier to write a character who has had experiences with which you can relate. The evidence for this is found in the number of books written by women that feature belivable male characters and vice-versa. Interestingly, Tor.com is a site that regularly discusses such works and that very aspect of those works, so it's really really easy for you to disabuse yourself of the notion that your baseless assertion above is "common sense".
fizzel
105. Eric Saveau
Much of the work of CJ Cherryh. Practically everything by Elizabeth Moon. Carrie Vaughn. Alyx M. Dellamonica. Brit Mandelo. Jo Walton. Just to name a razor-thin few. Strong female characters everywhere, some of them gay, all of whom I could relate to in some meaningful way. Not despite the fact that I am a straight male, but because the characters were human beings that in some way related to something about me or other people I have known. Starting with the fact that they were human beings rather than stock cardboard that had been painted-by-the-numbers. Really; why is this difficult?
Jenny Kristine
106. jennygadget
There has to be some cause for all of it and whatever that cause may be/have been it appears to be nearly universal.
And thus we see the root of the problem brought to light. A desire to explain away sexism rather than interrogate it. A need to treat it differently from dragons, elves, and everything else in fantasy worlds because...why? Because it makes you uncomfortable to think that sexism really is that senseless and illogical?

Do you also get annoyed at books that talk about the logistics of setting up camp but fail to explain how bands of fighting men obtain food, textiles, clean items, etc? Because this is a big part of the erasure of women's history that we are discussing. It's not just ignoring the female rulers that did exist, it's the casting of the Florence Nightingales in history as sweet and self-deprecating angels of mercy who did nothing more than wipe sweat from fevered brows. Rather than see them as vital, hard-working members of the forces and even intelligent and learned mathemeticians who argued policy with ranking men in the military.
Good for stopping any future discussion. Not great for actually changing opinions, though.
In addition to everything hautedesert said about the tone argument in general, I'd just like to point out the double standard in telling other people that you can catch more flies with honey while apparently being completely unconcerned with how condescending your own argument is coming across. Are the people who make these kinds of statements really that unaware of how often we have already heard them? And therefore how insulting it is to assume that we need to be lectured on how to make nice?


Even more, there is the implicit assumption that men (or, people who disagree?) need to be involved for something to be called a discussion.
When first reading this article, Twilight, Hunger Games and Harry Potter didn’t come to mind as SFF. As there’s no better place to classify them I can’t argue for their exclusion.
Seeing as how several of the highest grossing and most mainstream SFF books and films of the last decade didn't even "didn’t come to mind as SFF" until other people pointed them out to you - perhaps you may want to consider that you do not have the breadth of knowledge about SFF that is required in order come to any informed and logical conclusions about the current state of SFF, statistics or not.

Kimikimi and Fade,

For the record, I am bookmarking both those comments for the next time someone complains about boys and reading and boy's supposed lack of reading choices. bc yes. If boys refuse to read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, but girls have no issue reading Treasure Island, the long term solution is not sticking fast to the idea that we need more books with boys in them.

(also, the kickstarter could always be to raise money to donate books to children's libraries :p)
Mordicai Knode
107. mordicai
fadeaccompli
&
hawkwing-lb

Oh good, you got this? Good, you got this. This conversation looks exhausting.
Genevieve Williams
108. welltemperedwriter
I'm late to this thread, though I read the original post yesterday and most of the comments, and I just have a question.

Let's say that some of the assertions being made here by a certain party are correct. I don't think they are and have seen no evidence that they are, but for the sake of argument, let's say that most SF readers are men, most writers of same are men, and most major characters/protagonists are male. So here's my question:

So what?

How, exactly, does that have ANYTHING to do with the original point about the erasure of women as characters who take meaningful action from historical fantasy? Bad writing is bad writing, regardless of who wrote it or who it's for, and stereotypical, flat characters are stereotypical, flat characters. (It's not just historical fantasy either; Ready Player One annoyed me for this very reason, among the host of other reasons it annoyed me.)

My point is, "most SF readers are guys" or whatever is not a valid argument in this discussion (though I appreciate the well-thought-out responses to it, which are better than I can manage because the whole topic makes me splutter).
fizzel
109. kimikimi
jennygadget and fadeaccompli I like the way you think!

Getting the youngest grades of boys reading is very important to libraries these days, since male readership just keeps declining. I think it's valuable to teach every reader that they have something to enjoy and learn from any type of protagonist.
fizzel
110. Eric Saveau
Hello, welltemperedwriter!
"How, exactly, does that have ANYTHING to do with the original point about the erasure of women as characters who take meaningful action from historical fantasy?"
Well, as you clearly allude it's not what the article is about, but it is what he wants the thread to be about. So it's a definitely a derail, and a very common one at that. But since it's also the kind of clueless and uncritical BS that needs to be countered, the commenters are happy to oblige. Welcome!
Liz Bourke
111. hawkwing-lb
mordicai @107:

I think it was our turn. *g*
Genevieve Williams
112. welltemperedwriter
Eric: it is, isn't it. I shouldn't be surprised when I see derails like this anymore, and yet for some reason, I still am. *sigh* Great points raised in the responses tho!
Ashley Fox
113. A Fox
109 I have a 4 year old son.....and it is soooooo hard to try and filter out gender stereotyping. Really. I've always read to him so his reading isnt a problem. There is a definate time distortion in representation. But even giving older books a pinch of salt due to the society they were written in, it is quite hard to find modern, good, childrens books that do not have a male lead.Most books that have a central girl are aimed at the sickly sweet pink princess type. Which he is not interested in, or rather been convinced he is not. Out of his favourites there is 'Up in the Tree' by Margret Atwood (RECOMMENDED), 'Gruffulo's Child', 'The Tigre who came to Tea' (which has other issues as it reinforces gender roles within the home, but is lovely despite this).

That's it really. It does seem that the attemt to engage more young male readers is to prsent them with male protags. (Any recomendations welcome!)

On TV I do edit out programmes I feel reinforce neg'rep's too much, and luckily CBEEBIEs is quite good at offering diversity. Such as Abney and Teal, where the roles are very nearly reversed between the boy and girl character. He is quiet, a homebody, a bit tenative and meek. She is outgoing, lives in a hammock the top of a tree, and boistrous. The older channel, CBBC is even better, lots of strong female prtags. My son's favourite being 'Wolfblood' about a young female werewolf. But even so, there are more male characters.

I try to avoid pink and blue pakaging with toys also. He likes playmobil, and we discovered that the series are easy to brake up and swap the bits over. Since he has grown a fondness for lady knights, bearded ladies and homedads in skirts. :) He has also asked for Merida (Brave) doll for midwinter, and although I've already got all of his presents, Im going to buy it. Becuase he is a boy and has asked for a doll!
fizzel
114. Kimikimi
Have you tried Scardy Squirrel? It's pretty ungendered I think, since the protagonist is a squirrel and not a people. If he's being read to it might be a bit yooung for him, but my nephews love it. (the squirrel seems to have GAD so I can relate!)

This seems like to perfect thing to ask your local children's librarian, but I'll keep an eye out for books too. Your son's love of lady knights makes me think of Tamora Peirce, but he's Defenatly too young for that series (unless you don't feel squimish about reading sex scenes out loud). Probably better for a preteen. There's one picture book I liked about a young boy getting a doll and another about a stay at home dad, but I'll have to look up the titles.
fizzel
115. kimkimi
William's Doll / by Charlotte Zolotow ; pictures by William Pène Du Bois: William's dad tries to make him more manly by giving him boy toys that he doesn't want. William's grandma gives hime the doll because she knows it's just as important to teach boys how to raise kids as it is to teach girls. I guess the point is that having a need for a doll doesn't make William girly and that his dad should back off.

I can't remember the exact title of the other book but it's something like My father is embarrasing. Basiclly the dad fills a mom's roll since he works from home (as a writer I think) and does those little loving touches that kids find embarrasing (like leaving mushy notes in their lunches and singing loudly in public). The kid eventully figures out that he likes the embarrasing things, even while being embarrased. I can't think of any more yet, but I'll try.
fizzel
116. Kimikimi
I should say "fills what has traditionally been seen as a mom's roll"

Sorry, shame on me.
Fade Manley
117. fadeaccompli
jennygadget @106:

...you remind me that I have a whole enormous stack of books to go to a book club in another state that I really need to mail off. Which were specifically aimed at addressing a whole different issue in lack of historical/modern accuracy in what sort of people end up as book protagonists.

But I really do look back sometimes at the vast amount of Mandatory Reading with male protagonists in my childhood, and go...really? Is it really all that hard to empathize with a protagonist of a different gender? Because really, my problem with the protagonist of The Yearling wasn't that he was male, it was that he was a whiny, short-sighted git stuck in a Teach Children Life Lessons story.

I am sure that the vast majority of men do not have such fragile minds that they can't learn to empathize with more than 49% of humanity. Some of them just need more help than others.


mordicai @107:

It is exhausting. Fortunately, I am mostly remembering to take breaks and keep working on my wildly ahistorical fantasy novel. (My god! It's...full of women!)
fizzel
118. Zeborah
@qbe_64 A good way to find statistics on the relationship between gender and science fiction readership is to google {survey "science fiction" readers gender}. Actually I used duckduckgo but the principle is the same.

I found results from a (US) National Science Foundation survey in 2001 reporting that "there does not seem to be a gender gap: nearly equal percentages of men (31 percent) and women (28 percent) report that they read science fiction books or magazines".

Now, if choosing the protagonist for a book were a first-past-the-post question *and* if people always preferred to elect people of their own gender and race, *then* 31% of the male population = ~15.5% of the total population would beat 28% of the female population = ~14% of the total population every time (just as the 50.8% of the US population who are female and the 78.1% who are white elect a white female president every time).

But since many books can be successful simultaneously the system is really more equivalent to a mixed-member-proportional electoral system (such as we have in New Zealand) where your parliament of books would end up being composed of (say) 44% members of the Male Party, 40% of the Female Party, 14% of the Multiple Protags Party, and 2% of the Gender Binary What Gender Binary? Party.

Of course the other features of MMP in New Zealand are that your party has to reach at least 5% of the vote to get any seats (so the GBWGB Party gets shafted) and when it comes to parliament voting on issues it's still first past the post (so marketers go "Look, there's a slight majority of men, therefore we should market to men, therefore women sff readers don't exist, lalala can't hear you" and thus people end up believing that an overwhelming majority of sff readers are men despite the fact that there does not in fact seem to be a gender gap.)

@113 I'd recommend Margaret Mahy. "The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate", "Jam" (Dad makes the jam, I think Mum's an astrophysicist), etc.
fizzel
119. Kimikimi
Polly and the pirates is a graphic novel about a meek victorian type girl who ends up leading a gang of pirates, much like the true confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, but with pictures. Might want to read that one first too, I don't think it has graphic violance but I'm not a parent yet.
Jenny Kristine
120. jennygadget
* waves at Zeborah *

A Fox @ 113

The stuff for little kids is the worst, I think.

(in case anyone needs suggestions) Mo Willems books are good. As are Suzy Lee's. Ian Falconer's Olivia books are "girly" and then mostly not by turn. Kevin Henkes' books for elementary age kids that show a variety of personalities for each gender and his preschool books have a great mixture of "girly" colors and not, as well as being just plain awesome. Antionette Portis's Super Princess Kitty is very "girly" - but it's also about how preschool girls adapt the princess persona to become superheros and more, rather than be "just" "girly."

Todd Parr's books are adorable and talk in very simple terms about diversity and how alike and different people are. Tao Nyeu's have both genders and can be read as being slightly "girly" looking, but have awesome off the wall humor that tends to read as lower elementary school boy type humor - a mixture that has much the same affect as books that are about girls.

(I am thinking I need to come up with a proper list and post it elsewhere....)

It should also help to simply include stories about children that are not-white, which are rare as well, but easier to find lists of.
and although I've already got all of his presents, Im going to buy it. Becuase he is a boy and has asked for a doll!
Also, you are awesome. :)

Kimikimi @ 114
It's pretty ungendered I think, since the protagonist is a squirrel and not a people.
Sadly, that doesn't actually work. Because the rest of the books lean so heavily towards boys (and white boys, at that) most children read animal (or non-animal) characters as male. Unless it's made clear the character is female - often through very stereotypical means, which further reinforces the idea of male as default.

This is one of the many reasons why Mo Willem's Piggie and Elephant books are the MOST AWESOME EVER btw. Piggie is a girl, and it's explicitly stated in a couple of the books, but not all of them (the text is all dialogue, so there's no "s/he said"), which means her gender often takes kids by surprise when they do learn it. This creates a really wonderful teaching moment to talk about that assumption - something that is really hard to discuss well with the 4-8 year olds the books are aimed at.

Fade @ 117

Dare I ask which issue? :)
Fade Manley
121. fadeaccompli
jennygadget @120:

Trying to find YA books with characters who are PoC. Especially ones that aren't Problem books. It's damn hard to figure out which YA books- have non-white protagonists just by browsing covers and blurbs, because the marketing department gets really, really nervous about putting a picture of a non-white kid on the book. Especially if it's implying that person is who the story is about. Double especially if it's not with the side order of "Let me tell a depressing story about how much it sucks to not be white."

Probably would've been able to do better if I'd been researching online and then buying new, but I was trying to get books from a (very large and well-stocked) used bookstore. Anyway. I managed to find some, but it was a rather distressing experience. Oddly enough, the most likely books to show non-white characters were the pink-branded "It's about girls gossiping in high school!" books, which usually had a multi-ethnic group of friends depicted on the front.
fizzel
122. JohnnyMac
Ms. Roberts, please allow me to give my succinct reaction to your take home points:

1. YES!
2. YES!
3. YES!

If more writers take your suggestions to heart, we shall have many more good books to read in the future.
Chris Nelly
123. Aeryl
I don't know if you've done these, but Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is really good, easy to follow, and features two girl/one boy protagonists with a multitude of hapless adults of both genders ruining these kids lives.

I've only read the first few, but I've heard they do nothing but improve. Snicket has now moved into more adult literature, in case anyone's interested, telling his autobiography.
Ashley Fox
124. A Fox
Its the books that have characters which are almost non-gendered, despite their sex, that I would really like.

On animal charas. I will have to agree with Jennygadget. A good example is 'the Gruffulo'. All animals, all male. There is not a single female chara! The film version is better as they use a frame of a Squirrel mum telling her children the tale of the Gruffulo. And Julia Donaldson is well known for lovely and diverse stories. Another of hers, 'Rosie's Hat' is good. The protag is femae and grows up to be a firefighter.

On PoC. Tamora Pierce's Circle books have a chara called Daja...and she even features on the cover.

I think my son only has two books in which PoC chara's feature, which is a shame. We live in a town which is predominatly white (changing a bit more recently) and an incidant when he started school really bought home to me his inexperiance with various shades of skin. There is a black skinned boy in his class (just started school). On his way home he pointed out how very, very dark he was. He seemed upset, which concerned me. When I asked him why he told me he thought he must have been attacked by a dragon. Why? Becuase when a dragon attacks you (lots of demonstration and description of dragon) it burns you with its fire breath and your body turns black and you die. Is he a zombie?

I was a bt shocked-needless to say. My son was more familiar with dragons, zombies and the state of burned to death bodies that PoC! That last, btw, I have no idea where it came from. So when we got home I explained melatonin and demonstrated by adding coffee to milk, pointing out that my own skin was much darker than his. (Which he blinked at saying he had not noticed).

He has also sinced realised that Africans are black and he adores everything about africa (they do have the best animals after all). Any good africa based stories that include PoC? Anansi and such.

Oh, by the way egmont do personalised books (Thomas, barbie ct) where you can make your child the protag inc their skin/hair/eye/clothes colours. Their quite nice and if you have PoC children could be a good way to be inclusive :)
Jenny Kristine
125. jennygadget
fadeaccompli @ 121

yeaaaah. The Friends of the Library gave us some money to spend on paperback novels for teens and kids recently. And I made it a point to use at least some of the money to add some (more) diversity to our collection - specifically genre fic with PoC (counting middle grade "school/friend stories" as a genre). And no, it was not easy or quick. (Neither was, interestingly enough, finding decent Christian fic for teens.) The best resource I found was a combination of asking for help on twitter and then researching each of the titles suggested.

Aeryl @123

A Series of Unfortunate Events is actually one of the many books that I have had a parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle tell me flat out that their would not read because it is about a girl/has more girls than boys in it. (Personally, I think the adults are often more adamant about this than the kids themselves.)

A Fox @ 124
Its the books that have characters which are almost non-gendered, despite their sex, that I would really like.
I think that male being seen as the default, and children that age often being very focused on gender, makes this very difficult to do without making the girl character the child's a equivalent of a man with breasts, if that makes any sense. Children, in general, experience gender. Not acknowledging that they do doesn't really advance the idea that all genders have value. It's the same as trying to be "color blind" by not talking about race with kids.

The girl in Suzy Lee's Wave is very clearly a girl, simply by virtue of wearing a sundress, after all. As is the girl in Shadow. Are you looking for stories in which she is not even wearing a dress? Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean?

In any case, you know your child and his wants and needs best and I'm certainly not trying to argue you should read certain books bc PROGRESS no matter what those wants and needs are.

As a more general and long term goal for all of us, though, I don't see why encouraging boys to read/listen to stories like Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse could be anything but a good thing - or how encouraging young boys to listen to stories with girls only as long as the girls aren't too girly is all that useful overall. Personally, I find it very frustrating that it's acceptable for me to read "boy" books for story time and everyone is fine with it, but reading a Fancy Nancy book (which are kinda cute and get an undeserved bad rap simply bc they are "girly") says to everyone that story time is for girls only.
Any good africa based stories that include PoC?
hmmm...most of the ones I can think of only really talk about the animals, such as Base's Water Hole. I think Aardema has a few? There is also Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters. It's meant more to be read to elementary age children, but often that depends on the child in question more than anything. Especially when being read one on one with a parent.

Alexander McCall Smith also had a chapter book series a while ago that took place in Africa - I don't remember it well or how easy it would be to get a hold of now, but it might work as a story to read a bit of each night.
Ashley Fox
126. A Fox
By non gendered I mean where the sexes do not have to conform for what is percieved as gender norms. Ie pink, princesses, meekness for girls. Blue, outgoing, authority for boys. Essentially where these atributes are given to either sex dependant upon chracter rather than what bits they have, not that these atributes do not exist.

Though Atwoods 'Up in the Tree' is a great example of this. There is a boy and a girl. The only difference between them is that the girl has slightly longer hair. Another would be the 'Troll' by Julia Donaldson where there are three pirates who each take turns at cooking. One of them is Peggy Polkadot. She is clearly a girl, but there is no difference between her and the two boy pirates. Another, same author, would be 'Tyranysauraus Drip' where there are three baby dinos (one not a trex but hatched from a misplaced egg). The trexs have typically masculine atributes but are predominatly female, the 'drip' dinos have typically feminine atributes but the main dino, Drip is male.

As for children instictively being aware of gender? I have to disagree. This is something that is taught. It was only after starting school that the gender wars started. Before that there was some curiousity about the differences in genitals, but this was not judgement based. Excepting the taught gender differences the only one I have observed in my son is the vast disapointment he feels knowing he will not get pregnant and have a baby when he grows up :)

Sorry if this has derailed the convo somewhat! But if we are speaking of correcting such sexism it is good to start when we are young. Indeed there are some comments which clearly point to early socialisation bias and underline just how much things have changed in the last 50-30+ years.
Alan Brown
127. AlanBrown
Kimikimi, Grammar police time. I think you still have it wrong. You mean "mom's role," not "mom's roll" if I am not mistaken. Unless it is one of those rolls that gets filled with strawberry jam or something...
Alan Brown
128. AlanBrown
And may I be bold and suggest that qbe_64 may have been right in his hypothesis about more men reading SFF? I suspect that, fifty years ago, when I first started reading Analog and Galaxy Magazines, there were more men reading the genre.
Unfortunately, timing is everything...
;-)
Jenny Kristine
129. jennygadget
"As for children instictively being aware of gender? I have to disagree. This is something that is taught."

huh?

I didn't say that "children (are) instictively (aware of) gender" I said they experience gender. And they do. Because we create a world in which they surrounded by it, even when we don't mean to, even if we try not to.

Preschool is very young, but it's also very old in some ways - they've had several years of watching social interaction and people performing tasks and adults asking them how strong they are or commenting on how pretty they look.

Kids are natural pattern seekers. All people are, but very young children especially. Studies have shown that children recognize gender about the same time as they begin creative play - before they begin speaking.* (Gender, not sex - the social construct of who does what, not how people are built.) My point is not that we should encourage gender divisions, but that pretending most/all children haven't learned them already by they time they are listening all the way through longer picture books isn't going to help. Much like how pretending that race doesn't exist isn't going to help kids un/not learn racism.

Gender neutral is great. Fantastic. Very much endorsed by me. But as discussed already with regards to animals, gender neutral alone tends to read as supporting the status quo. Which is gendered.

With regards to you own son, as I said already, you know you own child best. But anecdote is not data, and there are studies about this. Studies about how infants and toddlers learn. Studies about racism that can be easily extrapolated to sexism, etc.

"There is a boy and a girl. The only difference between them is that the girl has slightly longer hair"

So they are both wearing dresses, but only the girl has longer hair? No, of course that isn't what you meant. (And why does the girl have longer hair? There are several boys that come into my library that have much longer hair than I do - and I don't mean teens.) However, this is what I mean by gender neutral not actually being gender neutral.

*which suggests that they recognize it before that, but that's more difficult to measure
Chris Nelly
130. Aeryl
I understand what you mean, A Fox, you want stories were girls and boys are celebrated not for being sucecessfully feminine or masculine, but being accomplished, and smart.

Lemony Snicket definitely falls into this category, IMO. The oldest sister is an inventor and forthright, not meek and submissive. The baby girl bites everything and everybody, and I understand she grows up to be very capable. The brother is a bookworm. So they definitely break the mold as far as how boys and girls are socialized to act.

The most important thing I have found is letting kids know that it is ok to DEFY gender. No matter how much you limit their exposure they'll pick it up. And also educate in the ways gender is used to harm people. I introduced my daughter to the Hawkeye Initiative on tumblr the other day, as she wanted to know why Hawkeye was on my page. It was educational for her to see such a visceral demonstration of objectification(of course, I understand that's not age appropriate for you). But its a good lesson for her to keep in mind as she starts matures.
fizzel
131. Liz Miller Doorbell Queen
Judging by the list of attendees at ChiCon this year, science fiction and fantasy fandom is pretty evenly split between the sexes.
Ashley Fox
132. A Fox
@Aewyl. Cheers, you gets it :) Think he may still be a bt young for Lemony snikit, though he did enjoy the film...may try some non-picture books in the new year. Have been sticking to them as he as learned to read last couple of months and familiarity is good.

@jennygadget
"I think that male being seen as the default, and children that age often being very focused on gender"
I had read this with the implication that the 'focus' was innate, in correspondance with their age, which I would very much disagree with. Your later post clarifies this though :)

I rather think you may have misread my post somewhat. Im not sure, but our views-and the way in which I use those views in a practicle sense with the raising of my own child-do not seem that far apart.

"My point is not that we should encourage gender divisions, but that
pretending most/all children haven't learned them already by they time they are listening all the way through longer picture books isn't going to help."
Mmmm, but it realy depends on what they have learned, no? Gender stereotypes surround children,this is undeniable (and frustrating). However if you are a person who does not adere to these values then you will replace them, as much as you are able, with your own values. (Hence the change in my son when he encountered the more typical values in contrast to the ones he had grown up with. Also possibly accounting for the many women in the link I gave earlier dismissing the greater social norms and acting upon their own values.)
listening all the way through picture books. This is extremely subjective. My son has been doing that, well, always. Reading has been part of our bedtime routine since he was about 7month old, and this routine is very popular in the UK.
Isnt going to help. Wow! Thats defeatist! :P I muct also point out there has been no suggestion of pretending anything. But rather that there are options in early socialisation...and that includes presenting alternatives even when the typical norms have already been learned, in fact such a basis (at such a young age) isnt all that much an impediment as it is diversity and freedom of norms that is being sought, not purely opposition to the current norms.

"With regards to you own son, as I said already, you know you own child best. But anecdote is not data, and there are studies about this."
::amused disgruntlement:: Yes, im quite aware of that...and of some of those. However this was not a critical debate, it was a conversation. I choose to use my anecodatal evidence as a launch, referencing greater issues, high lighting how times/perceptions have changed and our the greater social norm is not also the personal one, within this also I was drawing upon a general basis of knowledge, concerning such studies, theories but viewing them in a continuum rather than as absolutes. Of course this doesnt mean I am an expert in any way, but nor am I ignorant. I couple the knowledge I have with my own personal experiance when I engage in a casual conversaton such as this one.

Why I have said that i dont want toencourage my son to read'girly'books: Idontwant him to view women as helpless, as unable to think their way out of difficult situations, as in need of rescuing by men, as weak, as vapidly interested only in looking pretty, as only good for breeding and cleaning, as generelly less than and subserviant to men (the practicle, intelligent, strong ones who get to do all the important/fun stuff). I have not read the particuar book you mentioned, but many 'girly' books promote such and not only is that dangerous in how girls percieve themselves but it is also dangerous in how it teaches boys to percieve girls. BTW If my child was a girl it would be the same.

On 'Up in a Tree' I strongly suggest you actually check it out before you offer further critisms. You are making assumptions that in many cases would likely be correct but in this instance are things that are directly tackled. It is, after all, Atwood! Also trousers are no longer gendered.



The language used is 'we' and 'our'. It is not actually stated that it is a boy and a girl, but subtly implied by the pictures...it was my son who decided which was which. apologies for that being unclear earlier.
fizzel
133. Kimikimi
As for Poc YA books off the top of my head I can think of Toads and Diamonds, and The ear, the eye and the arm. For younger readers there's Bud, not Buddy and for the youngest set the snowy day.

You caught me AlanBrowne, that`s exactly what I meant. :) Sorry, I`m writing very fast and not being as careful as I should be, I`m sure you caught my spelling errors too. :D

As for trying to unteach gender through reading, maybe what you want are books that give your son options? Books that show girls being boyish and boys being girlish? There's a book called my princess boy that talks about a boy who wants to wear girl things and such and how the other kids are really accepting of him. I think it's one of those books that a parent makes to help people deal with an issue because it definatly has a message to it, and it might be more about LBTGA issues then just dealing with the gender binary. It sounds like you want your son to learn about everybody and such though, so you might like it. A lot of that literature has same sex parents fulfulling the roles of "mom" and "dad" which means that traditionally masculen and feminine jobs are done by either parent. Some nice adult modeling of sharing the work by ability and not sex.
fizzel
134. Skennedy
When you said "read some history. read some more." I was really hoping you were going to list a couple of good examples.
fizzel
135. Kimikimi
@Skennedy This site has some great women to start with:
http://takebackhalloween.org/ It's a project to give girls more options for halloween costumes then "sexy whatever" and "princess". It features great women from all parts of history and the world, with a tiny bit of info on each. Pick one and Google away :)
Caroline E Willis
136. CEWillis
*Applauds*

I was trained as an anthropologist, and... yes. All of these things! Yes!

*More applause*
Jenny Kristine
137. jennygadget
I'm not sure, but our views-and the way in which I use those views in a practicle sense with the raising of my own child-do not seem that far apart.
I don't/didn't really think so either, which is why I asked initially if I was misunderstanding you. I suggested books that I thought were fairly gender neutral, or were atypical in terms of how they dealt with gender (or characteristics seen as gendered), and you seemed to not like the idea that some of the girls might be wearing dresses or carrying purses or pretending to be princess kittens? And that seemed odd so I asked for clarification and restated my point - and got more stuff about girls wearing pants. I'm not actually any clearer now on if I was/am misunderstanding you.
Also trousers are no longer gendered.
But skirts still are. This is my point. Not that Up in the Tree is or is not a fantastic book, but that one way gender neutrality is not really gender neutrality. Why, after all, did your son assume the child with the longer hair was a girl? What do you think he would have thought if both children had short hair? If both children wore dresses? Both children had longer hair? If there was one child, but that child's hair was the not-really-all-that-long length shown in the picture you posted? For that last, many children would, I suspect, assume the child was a boy because "male" is presented as the default in our culture. If girls only exist in opposition to boys, no matter how "neutrally" they are presented...

If it's acceptable for girls to "defy gender" by doing "boy" things, but it's still not acceptable for boys to do "girl" things, like wear sparkly clothes or long hair or flowers or dresses....

Or if what used to be seen as a "boy" things (such as pants) is no longer seen that way, but the opposite is rarely true of "girl" things, even practical ones such as sewing or or taking care of younger siblings or creative/atheletic ones like ballet or ice skating...

None of that is really gender equality, neutrality, etc.
listening all the way through picture books. This is extremely subjective
It's also indicative of the child's experience and maturity, which is why I chose it. Even infants and toddlers that are read to, and that love books, tend to have a hard time sitting though an entire one consistently. My niece was read to from birth and reading herself by about three, but I don't know that I would say that she was listening to picture books all the way through, consistently, until about 16 months, by which time she had yes, picked up a lot about gender and other cultural interactions. More to the point, the more likely it is that a child has the patience for picture book, the more likely it is they they are mature enough to have learned a lot about gender already. That's not defeatist, that's just acknowledging how children actually grow.

Although yes, it requires a bit more definition than I gave (picture books, not books published only as board books, new books as well as familiar ones, and I meant fairly consistently, not the first time they sat through a story ever). Still, it can't be completely subjective or lacking in any trend - or else the preschool story times I do would be a complete mess in terms of figuring out what length of stories to read.

(and also, quite frankly, the fact that my professional expertise and years of study is seen as "extremely subjective" and therefore not real is just another example of a field in which women do most of the work being cast as not as rigorous as subjects in which men dominate)
I have not read the particuar book you mentioned, but many 'girly' books promote such and not only is that dangerous in how girls percieve themselves but it is also dangerous in how it teaches boys to percieve girls.
In my experience, "girly" pictures books actually do this much less than picture books that are perceived as being for boys. Girls want to be the stars of their own stories, and - as Super Princess Kitty demonstrates - find ways to be heroes even when culture tries to force them into boxes. Books seen as for "boys" (or even "gender neutral" ones in which the child could be any gender but will be assumed by most children to be male) are more likely to encourage this kind of thinking in my experience by casting girls as the enemy, insignificant by their mere absence, or as primarily caretakers by virtue of the focus on women as mothers. Even the Fancy Nancy series (which has a spa/beauty book, gah and SMASH) has her being a poet, a detective, etc. What are girls in Scaredy Squirrel? non-existent, mostly.

Where the Wild Things Are - which is of course an amazing book and excellent one for all children - has the boy be the wild thing, has Wild Things that most children will read as male, and has the parent be female. By itself, it's hardly advocating much in the way of gender. As part of a pattern though...the fact that this is the typical set up and is seen (in part rightly) as gender neutral means that creating a world for children that values girls and women means also presenting stories that embrace "girly" things - like kittens, flowers, dresses, sparkle, caring about others feelings, etc. - as well. By both girls and boys.

I also think it's actually more important that boys are presented with such stories, because the other thing children do is put themselves as the protag in the stories - so girls may see themselves as Max, but boys are exponentially less likely to have a reason see their female peers as a Maxes. Boys that are exposed to stories about girls (both "girly" and not) and stories about boys that do "girly" things - they'll make that leap much more easily than boys that aren't, imho. Because they will see gender not as being neutral - which they've learned at a very young age that it isn't - but rather as something more fluid and subjective

I'm not saying that Fancy Nancy is always awesome, I'm saying it often gets dissmissed out of hand because it's "girly", that doing so is hardly being supportive of girls and women, and that there are lots of books that also get dissmissed bc they look "girly" that are, in fact, fantastic stories for all children. (some of Kevin Henkes' books in particular.)

I realize this is getting off track from the original post - but part of why I am so adamant about this is because I rather thought this was part of the point of the post: that the problem has been not just that history/cultural narratives don't see women as being capable of the kinds of work that is valued, but also that the kinds of work and attributes that get labeled as "feminine" tend to be dissmissed and erased despite being interesting and important. And that acknowledging that this happens - that "women's work" has value - is vital to presenting women as being capable.
Ashley Fox
138. A Fox
I'm not quite sure why you've got your back up really. I understand that you have misunderstood:

"I suggested books that I thought were fairly gender neutral, or were
atypical in terms of how they dealt with gender (or characteristics seen
as gendered), and you seemed to not like the idea that some of the
girls might be wearing dresses or carrying purses or pretending to be
princess kittens? And that seemed odd so I asked for clarification and
restated my point - and got more stuff about girls wearing pants. I'm
not actually any clearer now on if I was/am misunderstanding you."

No you suggested lots of books that were 'girly' and others suggested books that were centred around girls. Which was good and an understandable approach to my initial request for suggestions. I merely attempted to clarify what I was looking for.

"(in case anyone needs suggestions) Mo Willems books are good. As are Suzy Lee's. Ian Falconer's Olivia books are "girly" and then mostly not by turn. Kevin Henkes' books for elementary age kids that show a variety of personalities for each gender and his preschool books have a great mixture of "girly" colors and not, as well as being just plain awesome. Antionette Portis's Super Princess Kitty is very "girly" - but it's also about how preschool girls adapt the princess persona to become superheros and more, rather than be "just" "girly.""

Where did I say there was a problem with dresses purses and princess kittens?? The only problem I have with that is when it is the only thing offered in terms of girls...becuase it is reinforcing a negative gender role. This was an assumption on your part becuase I asked for non-gendered (and I did clarify this, being that gender atributes should be shared between the sexes as personality traits not defining points of sex) I will also point out that it was you who raised trousers/skirts in an assuption about the characters in the book I had ref'ed.

"It's also indicative of the child's experience and maturity"- Precisiely, this is why it is subjective. That point in a childs life could range from a few moths old to 7 (or older in particularily difficult circumstances.) there are so many varibles that lead to/interfere with that milestone that is is extremely subjective. you own exampl of your neice in contrast to my son (and it turn, our experiances with other children) should highlight just how subjective this is. And I understood what you meant, my example still holds surprisingly enough. He could also count to three by the time he was 4months. As to your group sessions, of course there are developmental expectations on which child care/education is based on. such developmental stages are fluid within a certain extent and are also heavily based on an average norm. When a child/s upringing/oortunity (poverty, in care, learning difficulties, undiagnosed sight problems ect) has any of these, which many do, there wil be some variation from the norm. Or sometimes simply down to personality.

"More to the point, the more likely it is that a child has the patience
for picture book, the more likely it is they they are mature enough to
have learned a lot about gender already."- Um no. A child takes in everything and processes it from the moment it is born, this has nothing to do with maturity. Reoeated lessons become ingrained, it may be that as they gain maturity they gain the ability to vocalise/question such.

"(and also, quite frankly, the fact that my professional expertise and
years of study is seen as "extremely subjective" and therefore not real
is just another example of a field in which women do most of the work
being cast as not as rigorous as subjects in which men dominate)"

-Oh come now, really? How on earth have you leapt to that conclusion? It is subjective. That has nothing to do with you, your job,your gender. something being subjective most certainly does not equate not real! In fact I take offense at the implication that my remark was sextist or deragatory. It was not.

"In my experience, "girly" pictures books actually do this much less than picture books that are perceived as being for boys."

I must say this surprises me. I think I get where you are coming from. Women owning femininity but not being relegated to it, which is all very well. But our can you say they do less harm?

We could brake t down to four categories:
For Boys: they have adventures, solve mysteries, are active and use skill sets such as strength, intelligence, problem solving. They are seen fullfilling roles such as firefighters, detectives, knights etc.

For girls: they strive to look beautiful, to have clean homes, to have babies, when they do work it is in a caring sense, when they do get into trouble thy wait for a man to rescue them. They are princess, carers, home keepers. Perhaps they have a more active hobby.

Gender neutral: Boys and girls share some of the above. Yet, as you point out, there is still the male dominance and primary placement.

Non-gendered: The characters are diverse, gender traits are sorted by personality type, rather than sex.

It seems to me that there is much that is problematic, that the for boys/girls books both reinforce gender roles from different sides. Looking at it from the boys perspective. They see all these active roles for males, erhaps some females who are sidekicks of a similar ilk, perhaps a few that need rescuing. By then indroducing 'girly' books you are only going to reinforce the idea that girls should be relegated to those passive roles. Whereas if you introduced books where the girls in them did the same as the boys in the boys book, then you would negate the idea that these roles/actions are associated with one gender or another. (And of course this works in reverse also, though there would be a decided passive overtone to it all. Which is where a complete breakdown of gender roles comes into play!lol)
fizzel
139. Kimikimi
Have you tried Robert Munsch? I notice that his characters are usually pretty easily swappable, and that parents both seem to do homemaking roles. I also remember one story about a girl trying to do something with her hair (stay with me please) and having every other person at school copy her, from the kids in her class to the very male principle. In another the father takes the whole family shopping for groceries although that might just be my bias towards seeing that as a traditionally feminine job (both my parents go, but on TV food seems to be a woman's job).
fizzel
140. smith
Judging by the list of attendees at ChiCon this year, science fiction and fantasy fandom is pretty evenly split between the sexes.


http://gameunivers.com
Alan Brown
141. AlanBrown
Today, we had a family Christmas party, and my granddaughter got some of the same toys as her boy relatives--Lego dinosaur hunter sets and some sort of Nerf gun, and she built her Legos, and played shooting games right alongside the boys. She also dressed as a pirate along with the boys before the presents were opened, helping defend the presents from imaginary zombies. She also got some dolls, which she cuddled and played with. I think all we can do is present the kids with a range of toys, books and examples, and then let them choose their own way.
I had a lot of diverse examples of men and women to look up to when I was young. I had my own soft spoken, bookish and nurturing father (who also won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge--that soft spokenness was not a sign of weakness). And I had an aunt who was a nun, spent her life working in public works departments at Catholic hospitals, and who wore jeans and flannel shirts, and drank beer and smoked cigars, when she was not in her habit. I saw that you don't need to follow stereotypes, you can be what you want to be.
fizzel
142. Sad Doctor
Rome is a really interesting case where despite women's lack of titles, there were still plenty of very powerful women, even if it was often considered impolite to admit as much. For instance, when Emperor Tiberius was getting manipulated by his Prefect Sejanus, the one person Sejanus didn't dare cross was Tiberius's mother Livia. Only once mom died did Sejanus dare to grab for more power. And at the same time Tiberius's most open political enemy through his whole reign was Agrippina the Elder, who waged a political campaign against the man she suspected of killing her husband.

Claudius's wife was hugely important to his ever surviving to become emperor. Hadrian owed most of his political good fortune to the wife of his predecessor Emperor Trajan, and she's the one who signed the order naming Hadrian as Trajan's heir. You can go on and on with women who shaped the Empire.

Now Rome was definitely sexist, but it wasn't sexist in the way a lot of people imagine ancient societies. Gender relations throughout history are a lot of things, but the thing they never are is simple.
Fade Manley
143. fadeaccompli
Sad Doctor @142:

I thin that the Rome television show did a pretty decent job of showing the complex place of women within proto-Imperial Rome. (Especially compared to most television portrayals of the place.) Women of all sorts of different social classes showed up, and it was pretty clear that at the level where men could be movers and shakers, the women could be too. Even if they had to be less direct about it.

Though frankly, some of the feuds between women in that show were anything but indirect. Especially when it came to doing violence to one another. It was a marvelously refreshing change of pace from the usual portrayal of women in that time period, where authors and producers assume that women sat around looking pretty and waiting for men to do things to them, and then maybe there was a harridan or to trying to meddle where she didn't belong.
fizzel
145. Jmar
I think that the comment has been pretty well torn apart, but I want to state very bluntly why "I prefer male characters" and thinking that it is a valid reason to direct an entire genre is fallacious thinking. (Let's not forget that it's also based on unfounded claims and data.)

There is nothing wrong with preferring one gender of character over another. I'm not contesting that. But there's some very weird gender essentialism going on with all of the rest of the comment. It all seems to be based on the assumption that men and women are fundamentally different in their character because they are men and women. This is incredibly untrue. Men and women are different as people (for emphasis: PEOPLE) and whatever differences are caused by their gender within society exist only as a result of those societal pressures. Society informs our behaviors and thus impacts our personalities.

For example: There are cranky men and women. There are not cranky women because they are women, nor are there cranky men because they are men. There many be a cranky woman (who is not cranky because she is a woman) that is cranky because she is a woman in a patriarchal society and so she doesn't get paid as much as a man even though she does the same job, and just as well, and she got passed up for a promotion by a man that she trained.

Assigning character traits based solely on gender is horrible. PEOPLE act certain ways. Men do not act certain ways and women do not act certain ways. If you actually think this, not only do you need to educate yourself, you need to seriously evaluate what you think science and fantasy are supposed to do. (Hint: Challenge our current societal norms in thoughtful ways.)
Noneo Yourbusiness
146. Longtimefan
sexism is tiresome; people are interesting.
Mordicai Knode
147. mordicai
117. fadeaccompli

Wait...you mean, a novel that doesn't conform to present day gender bias? Don't you know that history must be viewed through the prism of modern day bias & altered to fit our expectations? Here, let me mansplain some already debunked "evolutionary psychology" for you...

111. hawkwing-lb

I keep looking at this thread & trying to engage with it but then my eyes roll so far back in my head that I can't read the screen anymore. I really should try to put something constructive here, but I think the post (& the post before it) hit the point pretty succinctly. There is an argument to be made about GRRM-- to wit, he's got a sexist world but not sexist characters, but why does he have to have a sexist world in the first place-- that I kept expecting the conversation to go toward, but nope! We're still stuck in Mansplain 101.
Gerd K
148. Kah-thurak
@mordicai
He does not have to have a sexist world... but he does not have to have a non-sexist one either. It is his decision, you know... and if all the bad things, like violence, murder, sexism etc were left out of all stories they would be rather limited, wouldnt you think?

And again you insist on using your favourite word... "mansplaining". Imagine how you would rage against something like that in other circumstances...

@Topic
A case where I found this quite appalling is the Riverworld series by Palmer. That there is not one historical Woman of any import (inspiring Alice in Wonderland can hardly count) in this (otherwhise quite interesting) series was something I found rather ridiculous - and I am by far not the most sensitive person for such things.
Ann Leckie
149. hautdesert
@Kah-thurak

And again you insist on using your favourite word... "mansplaining".

I imagine it's her favorite because it's just so darn handily descriptive! For instance, it certainly would never have occurred to mordicai that GRRM actually had his own choice in the matter of the sort of world he builds for his novels--not even though she acknowledges this in the post you're replying to! And even mentions that she'd like some discussion of that issue! Which is why it's so kind of you to be sure to explain that to her. And why it's so handy to have a word to describe that action.

I don't know about you, but I love language.

Imagine how you would rage against something like that in other circumstances...

The circumstances are not, however, other.
fizzel
150. BL
@Jmar
"If you actually think this, not only do you need to educate yourself,
you need to seriously evaluate what you think science and fantasy are
supposed to do.
(Hint: Challenge our current societal norms in thoughtful ways.)"

I don't think Science Fiction and Fantasy have to do this at all. They can just as well choose to assert societal norms they think are important. Tolkien, for example, tended to write about the traits in a society he valued and saw disappearing as opposed to agitating for social change.

Similarly, much Science Fiction has been written about technology affecting the human condition negatively by removing something we hold dear as a concept.

If you value science fiction and fantasy based solely on whether or not it agitates for social change, I think you are doing it a disservice.

To your first point, men and women are different from each other even as they are both the same. That difference is fascinating and should be celebrated, not denigrated or minimalized. Men and women are both capable of the same emotions, but for various reasons - biological and societal - their attitudes and approaches to the world are different. I would argue good fantasy explores that, and that a character whose gender doesn't matter is probably not a very well defined character.
Chris Nelly
151. Aeryl
@ 147
I don't necessarily need a non sexist world for my fantasy, but I do ask that if its going to keep it in place, it explore it.

To get back to GRRM, like I said, I completely fascinated by the fact that the basis of the entire story is really all about who Lyanna chose to be with, a fact that the show sadly fails on. You never see how she hangs over Ned, only Robert, and the fact that Robert views Lyanna as kidnapped by Rhaegar, is only ever mentioned in the early episodes.

I think the books definitely have some interesting things to say about how societies devalue motherhood , and how society's judgement on mothers can warp the women who take on the task. And how raising your daughters to be nothing but pretty faces is harmful.

And it also has some interesting things to say on masculinity. I don't think it is any surprise that the most sympathetic character(so far) is Tyrion, who fails terribly at the traditional markers of masculinity, along with Arya, who fails at femininity. The show has also made me a fan of Varys(mainly because the cut the awful "titters" that are all over the book), another who fails at masculinity. But neither of them can hide the fact of who and what they are, which is probably why the closeted gay character is one of the ones who polices masculinity to severely, he is the first one to pick on Joffrey after Arya and Nymeria took his sword.

Because these discussions take place, I think that answers the why of your question. His books take place in a sexist world because that is what he wants to explore and dissect.
fizzel
152. Rosie Oliver
People keep on saying female mathematicians are even rarer. And as Ada Lovelace's 197th birthday, all I'm going to say is Hypatia... go on look her up!
Liz Bourke
153. hawkwing-lb
mordicai @147:

I keep looking at this thread & trying to engage with it but then my
eyes roll so far back in my head that I can't read the screen anymore.

You said it, brother. Although we've had some fairly good contributions down here too, I think. In between the 101. :P
Alan Brown
154. AlanBrown
What the heck does 'mansplaining' mean? I am having difficulty figuring it out from the context.
Is this some new term, or just something someone made up on the spot?
Sometimes when I am on the internet, I feel that I am seeing a new language (and especially new spelling and grammar conventions) being born before my eyes.
Steven Halter
155. stevenhalter
AlanBrown@154:Mansplaining is when someone explains, condescendingly and inaccurately, something to a group whose members often are way more familiar with the subject matter than the explainer. The 'man' part comes from the explainer often being male and their assuming that their female audience just can't possibly grasp something due to their female cooties (or something).
Egregrious example:
Alan darlin', just don't worry your pretty head--mansplainin is where men go sail planing. It's all very technical.
Joris Meijer
156. jtmeijer
@ Mordicai 147,

I would assume that the conversation stays away from 'why sexist worlds at all', because the discussion was started from a position that even in a sexist world ignoring women and using historical precedent as an excuse does not make sense.

One issue in discussing historically inspired and/or epic fantasy is that the normal problem of the names everyone mentions are the same men all the time raises its head. Perhaps a better example for well-developed women in an epic fantasy setting, even in a world adhering to perceived historical roles would have been the Sword of Shadow books by J.V. Jones.
Mordicai Knode
157. mordicai
149. hautdesert

I won't worry my pretty lil' head none, don't you worry.

156. jtmeijer

I just in general feel that discussions of gender in the context of GRRM are very interesting, because he depicts a really awful place rife with sexism & it's cruelties...but has half of his viewpoint characters as women. Not just your Aryas & Ashas who magically act outside gender roles, but your Caits & Sansas who are trapped in their gender roles, but remain well realized characters never-the-less.

Which, no, I realize the conversation isn't anywhere near that point in the discussion, I just...sort of hoped that by now we'd get past the "what, who assumes white straight men are the default, that is just how it randomly happens to be, also the readers are (let's pretend) all white straight men, so that is just how the market works" territory. I know, I know, more fool me.
fizzel
158. janekathy1
I'm not quite a student of it, but my understanding of anthropology, etc. is that the (vast) majority of human cultures--i.e., the noncivilized ones--were (and are, but mostly were, since we've wiped them out) not sexist, although there were distinct sex roles. And as has been pointed out things could vary quite a bit even within a civilization (or among civilizations.) So all this "there has to be some special reason the society is not patriarchal or the story is lame" (in a *fantasy* story no less) and the tacit acceptance that a non-sexist society is by definition unrealistic, is just extra silly and maddening.
fizzel
159. janekathy1
Repeating a comment by Kate M in the comments on her SF Signal guest post about omniscient breasts (mentioned above):

"Your idea of what constitues a ‘fantasy setting’ sounds incredibly limited.

It never ceases to amaze that there are fans of ‘speculative fiction’ who can’t speculate beyond Euro-centric fantasy worlds where white dudes have all the power."
paul Hend
160. tugthis
It is not that this is "Duh, if you know more you are better off" piece, it is just that it assumes that writers now should write with some enlighterned form of feminism or equality or respect for all people. Maybe it would make for nice shiny fiction, maybe it wouldn't, but the truth is people are treated differently, sexes are treated differently, sexual identity is treated differently-- with either a 21st "enlightened" view or with an archaic aristoctratic "male" sensibility.
You can lament the past thousands of years of history writing as being non reflective of your current views. I am sure it is not. But don't assume that writers who do not speculate beyond Euro-centric fantasy worlds, or who dig the current vogue of "social historians" who "pay more attention" are wrong. It is equally possible that they just think social histories are boring "Lifetime" versions of history, and like the stuff they like. Thank you very much.
Fade Manley
161. fadeaccompli
tugthis @160: You can lament the past thousands of years of history writing as being non reflective of your current views. I am sure it is not. But don't assume that writers who do not speculate beyond Euro-centric fantasy worlds, or who dig the current vogue of "social historians" who "pay more attention" are wrong.

Welcome to the comment thread! It's a pretty long one. You might want to read some of it, to find out what sorts of things are being discussed here.

You might want to also read the article, because you appear to have read the title, and maybe some headers, and then completely missed the point of it. You see, you're saying that people who "do not speculate beyond Euro-centric fantasy worlds" should not be assumed to be "wrong." And no one will particular argue with that, because no one has said they're wrong. Build a Euro-centric fantasy world! Populate it with thinly disguised versions of England and France! (And maybe some places that aren't England and France, for a wacky change of pace. There are other countries in Europe! It's true!) That will not be "wrong," and no one is saying that basing a fantasy world on medieval England is "wrong."

What people are actually saying is that if you build your fantasy Europe based entirely on the stuff people think they know about it in modern pop culture, without real research, it's like basing your book about modern America on having watched a lot of episodes of Baywatch. Because--this is sort of the point of the whole article, so you may want to go back and read that, and see if you can catch it--the commonly accepted generic view of history is...wrong!

Yes. That is the part we are saying is wrong. Based on facts. Which we have. There are many, many people who have spent a great deal of time and effort finding out those facts! And figuring things out based on them! And writing about things! Some of those facts are referenced in the article above! Others are referenced in the comment threads!

So, you know. It's okay to write about medieval Europe. It's okay to base your fantasy on it. When you base your fantasy on a completely inaccurate version of it because you "like the stuff" that is wrong, we are going to feel pretty comfortable saying, "Ayup, that? Is wrong." Because that is what actual research and facts and investigations of How Things Were Back Then say, and it tends to be more accurate than "the stuff like."

You can even write the fantasy equivalent of Baywatch. You just don't get to say that you wrote Baywatch because it's the most accurate representation of life in a small town in northern Michigan, and expect people to take you seriously.
paul Hend
162. tugthis
fadeaccompli You do like to write. Yes, there are lots of comments and i did read them, the piece under comment is not very long, complex, or profound. It is just short of a rant. Can I summarize--perhaps a little unfairly-- Write better and more women characters, history was written by men, women are important too. A sub argument is that fantasy is based on history and history has proven itself (somehow) unfair to women, so fantasy is unfair to women.
Other than that there is not much there. If you choose to judge a fantasy through a historical lens, be sure that is what the author intended. It is possible that more of it is imagined, than based on fact. Not having researched a particular historical era is not a disqualification from writing good fiction.
Remember that here on the sites, and boards it is the fanboys talking not the authors. they are not saying they are writing any kind of representation of anything. they (authors) are just telling stories--- good or bad stories.
Fade Manley
163. fadeaccompli
tugthis: You do like to write.

My goodness, yes. I'd hardly be commenting on a post on the internet, something which currently requires text-based communication, if I disliked writing.

Can I summarize--perhaps a little unfairly-- Write better and more women characters, history was written by men, women are important too.

Hm. That's not an entirely inaccurate summary of some points. But it's not an entirely accurate summary, either. After all, if the authors writing ahistorically sexist books, and the people who read them, all stood up and said, "Why, yes, I am making this far more sexist and less representational of women's contributions to society than any realistic or historical rendition would!"... Well, people would object to that, but on different grounds.

The problem is that many people are writing ahistorical fantasies that are systematically portraying half of humanity as less useful and less important than they actually are. And when people say, "My goodness, yet another fantasy novel in which half of humanity is portrayed in an unrealistic manner," these authors and their fans do not stand up and say, "My goodness, yes! This is fantasy! That's why I'm doing something unrealistic and unlike how it works in real life." A great many of them are standing up and saying, "No, no, you're trying to impose a modern viewpoint on our precious HISTORICAL ACCURACY."

Which is wrong. Laughably wrong.

What we have here is a great many fantasy novels in which the sky is green and has three moons. Your objection is that this is because it is fantasy, and we shouldn't object. And indeed, we would object far less if people said, "Yes, these novels have green skies and three moons, because they are deliberately portraying an unreal situation." Unfortunately, what we have is a lot of people standing up to go, "All of you sheeple just THINK the sky was always blue! The sky was only ever blue since 1969, and was distinctly purple before then! Only in 1975 did radical anti-moon extremists remove the other two moons; before then, it was THREE MOONS, you ignorant political correct bastards!"

If you have never yet run into people on the internet claiming that ahistorical portrayals of large portions of humanity are actually more historically accurate than historians say, then I can only say you have been blessed. And that you have not read this entire comment thread.
Mordicai Knode
164. mordicai
161. fadeaccompli
What people are actually saying is that if you build your fantasy Europe based entirely on the stuff people think they know about it in modern pop culture, without real research, it's like basing your book about modern America on having watched a lot of episodes of Baywatch.
As Stan Lee would say: 'nuff said. This is an epic burn all the more harsh because it is 100% true. This is a comment thread closer. Everything after this is just noise. Same with janekathy1 (159.) citing Kate M.
Alan Brown
165. AlanBrown
Historical accuracy is tough. The deeper you dive, the less sure you are of the real gist of what you study. And people draw strikingly different conclusions from the same facts. For example, if all your history came from your junior high and high school text books, and then you read Zinn's People's History of the United States, you might think the man was describing another country.
I just read the 'omnicient breasts' article, and I must say, I see exactly the point Ms. Elliot is driving at. Viewpoint is hard to get right, and should be used to serve the story and present the characters in as realistic a manner as is possible. That goal is not served when the viewpoint is simply be driven by the author's predjudices.
paul Hend
166. tugthis
Fadeaccompli, by liking to write I was referring to this thread, which I have read. I am not sure what point it is that you think I have missed. I am not certain either about how my somewhat glib summary is off.
Your opinion, I believe, is that many fantasy and science fiction writers are sexist, or are at least writing sexist stories. They are sexist because they do not understand, as you do, that modern history discovered both that sexism exists, that it is bad, and that anyone reading it is dim wit, or at least one who would enjoy watching Baywatch.
It is not that I completely disagree with you, although I do not think that contemporary history is any more accurate than ancient, medieval, colonial, or post colonial history. Nor do I think that today's morays are here to stay, and that they invalidate any previously existing ones. What I think I disagree with Mrs. Roberts and her champion over is how you privilege the current gender equality notion over anything else. I do not believe that the historical accuracy that you believe in has been achieved or indeed will ever be achieved. And I love history.
At the end of the day (and book) you either like the characters and how they are drawn or you do not. We may want to believe that fiction owes us something-- some truth about the overall human condition-- but at best it can make you feel stongly or weakly about imaginary constructs that may or may not conform to how we think reality should operate-- or maybe could operate in a more perfect world. If a male character treats a female character like crap, be outraged or not, but don't suggest that every author treat the sexes in the way you prefer them to be portrayed.
alastair chadwin
167. a-j
In the UK newspaper The Guardian, there's this fun little tale. Scott Lynch is now a hero of mine!
Fade Manley
169. fadeaccompli
tugthis @166: If a male character treats a female character like crap, be outraged or not, but don't suggest that every author treat the sexes in the way you prefer them to be portrayed.

You keep saying that you've read this thread, but you've missed the point so completely that I don't even know how to engage with your claims anymore. You're arguing against points that aren't being made, and trying to refute fact with "That's your opinion!"

But don't worry! You're not going to run out of historically inaccurate literature that claims it's based on historical reality any time soon. If I was ever in doubt of that, your arguments have certainly convinced me otherwise.
paul Hend
170. tugthis
fade, I think it is the fans who are making the assertions about historical accuarcy, not the authors. They may just be doing a bad job of writing. Unless I miss my guess, the commenters on this thread are not the authors of the books in question. We, and I include myself here, are on thin ice attributing motives to authors. Critics are a dime a dozen, and ultimately matter little in the creation of literature.
Fade Manley
171. fadeaccompli
tugthis: Critics are a dime a dozen, and ultimately matter little in the creation of literature.

You see, this is where I take a moment to look over this website we're on. The one full of reviews, re-reads, analyses of what's been written, commentary, and discussion. Some of which can be called "criticism" even by the strictest definitions of the word; most of which can, in broader definitions.

What do you think literature is? When you say "literature" do you only mean fiction? If so, where do you put the dividing line between fiction and non-fiction? If not, how are you defining literature?

How do you think literature is created? In what way do you think "fan" feedback influences a writer's choices? Do you consider critics to be within the group of "fans" that you're referring to? Do you consider writers of fiction to be "fans" of other texts? Does their reading and analysis of other texts influence how they write their own? Where are you drawing the line between "critic" and "author"? Why are you drawing a line there at all? Do you believe spoken criticism is substantially different from written criticism?

To what extent is admitted and/or deliberate authorial intent is relevant to the experience of reading a text? Do you have any strong opinions on the death of the author as an analytical approach to literature? Is this view more or less relevant to a useful criticism of a text if an author has publically stated contradictory motivations or intents regarding their creation of a single text? (Do you mind the use of the third person plural for a gender-neutral pronoun when speaking of a hypothetical third person?)

Do you believe the creation of literature occurs without reference to other literature? Do you believe the creation of literature occurs without reference to criticism of other literature? Do you believe the creation of literature occurs without reference to fan reactions to other literature?

If you believe that criticism of literature is so irrelevant to the creation of literature, what do you believe it is relevant to? If the answer is "nothing," why are you engaging with the criticism of literature?
fizzel
172. hapax
tugthis:
Nor do I think that today's morays are here to stay, and that they invalidate any previously existing ones

And yet, sadly, my hovercraft remains full of eels.

(What? This is as relevant to the topic at hand as anything else "tugthis" posted)
paul Hend
173. tugthis
Fadeaccompli, All good questions and all worthy of their own discussion boards. or even a long night over many a beer discusing them.
The site we are on is a web site owned by a fantasy/science fiction publisher. I am sure there is some financial motivation for its existance. No problem there, but keep it in mind.
A fan is one in my opinion who is a partisen of an author or genre.
A critic is an arbiter of quality and taste.
More readers are good, more good readers are good. I am not certain that an author should put much stock in the critics, or even the readers. The acclaim is nice but I would not want to read the work of an author who was writing for someone elses tastes.

As a matter of course the author's life and publicity tour/ interviews and commentary are not important to my enjoyment of the work. interesting, perhaps but no more than that.
fizzel
174. ERose
I love the point I took from this post and that a few of the male posters seem to have missed entirely. Sure it might make sense to have men in visible positions of power in a story, but it's not realistic to have only male characters or have the only active characters be men. And even if you have a character ruling a country, for example, that is female it doesn't mean it's historically inaccurate.
It may have happened less often than having a male ruler, but having a female ruler happened often enough in real prominent nations that the claim that you can't have an empire ruled by an empress in a fantasy novel because "OMG History" is not only dumb, but wrong.
Saying "OMG History" when someone mentions that giving a female or black character an actual role in the plot beyond sex or mystical assistance is also just wrong. You don't even have to get into sexist or racist. It's inaccurate.
The point is that even in the white penis-washed version of history that often got recorded, there are women and people of color and LGBT people and disabled people that did stuff and had a meaningful impact. I'd even say a lot of them, given how often a little research reveals that men and women shared a lot of the work in movements that men got credit for - the American Civil Rights movement for one, unionization for another.
Having none of them exist in a meaningful role in your fantasy novel isn't history; history is just a convenient excuse for reinforcing the boundaries of one's comfort zone.
fizzel
175. rayonn
Well, not having read the entire thread in detail, I'm taking a bit of a risk in commenting, but I'd like to weigh in on some things:

1. Count me as another guy who has no problem reading a female protagonist. The only time the protagonist's gender matters to me is when I first pick up the book and give a few pages to convince me that it's worth reading. In the absence of any other information, I am ever so slightly more likely to keep a book if the protagonist's gender is opposite what I perceive as 'generic' or 'cliche' for the genre. (Generally that means that I am more likely to keep a swords-and-horses fantasy with a female protagonist and and an urban fantasy with a male protagonist.)

Once I'm into the story, it really doesn't matter, as long as the character is well-written.

2. I'd like to give a concrete counterexample to anyone who thinks medieval women didn't do anything interesting. Here is Margeret Paston, writing a shopping list to her husband (who, I believe, was in London on business) (Taken from here)
Right worshipful husband, I recommend me to you, and pray you to get some crossbows and windlasses to bind them with, and crossbow bolts; for your houses here are so low that there may no man shoot out with a longbow, though we had never so much need.
Apparently she is overseeing the defense of the household. (In addition to the stereotyped 'womanly' things--she goes on to ask for sugar, almonds, and cloth.)

I'm not a historian, but as far as I know there is no reason to think this is atypical for a woman of her time (mid-15th century) and class (landed gentry).

3. Mordicai posed the question (@147): Why write about a sexist setting in the first place?

I don't know if this was Martin's intent or not, but here is why I would do it: most of the people who ever lived inhabited more-or-less sexist societies. Stories like Margaret Paston's are worth telling. And fantasy is one of the best ways to tell those sorts of stories, because it needn't adhere to historical detail--the author is free to _invent_ the stories that the historians of that society would ignore.
Alan Brown
176. AlanBrown
I suspect, Mr. Tug, that you must be new around here, or instead of being dismissive of the discussion, you would realize that this site has more than its fair share of writers and professionals participating in the discussions. And realize that the folks who host this site do a good job of creating an environment that consists of much more than simply pushing their products in our faces.
paul Hend
177. tugthis
Allan, I am not dismissive of discussion, in fact I encourage it, and would have more. I have been on the site for some time, not that it matters, and I am well aware of the good environment created by TOR Publishing.
http://www.tor.com/page/about-us
I am never going to accuse them of "pushing their products in our faces". They provide a good service. They own the store where people meet to talk about what they love, and after they talk they buy, or they buy and talk about what they bought. It is the virtual comic book store you check into to see if anything cool has come in.
fizzel
178. S.M. Stirling
158. janekathy1TUESDAY DECEMBER 11, 2012 03:56AM ESTI'm not quite a student of it, but my understanding of anthropology, etc. is that the (vast) majority of human cultures--i.e., the noncivilized ones--were (and are, but mostly were, since we've wiped them out) not sexist, although there were distinct sex roles.

-- ah... no. That's not just inaccurate, it's -very- inaccurate.

The contemporary West is less sexist/patriarchal than virtually any other major culture which has ever existed. That's why we're conscious of sexism; we've made more progress on the issue.

One of the markers of that progress is that we're more -aware- of sexism when we see it.

To someone from a really patriarchal culture, sexism is invisible the way water is to a fish. "So the Gods have decreed our lives" or something of that order is the common default setting.

Which leads to the next rock.
fizzel
179. Helen Merrick
@166
you might want to think about what it menas that you called the author 'Mrs Roberts' without any information as to her title.

Just so you know, it is actually DR Rayner Roberts.
fizzel
180. S.M. Stirling
OK, next rock.

Someone noted the Paxton Letters above. The woman writing to her husband about the need for some crossbows, specifically.

Yup, she's an active agent, and she's doing things. If you read on, you'll also read how she helped torture (imprison and beat) her daughter for refusing to be married off against her will.

So no, women don't stop being active human beings because their culture classes them as very different from, and inferior to, men.

Elizabeth the First was a monarch, and a very powerful one: her courtiers and ministers literally shook with fear at the thought of angering her (her rages were famous, as had been her father's, Henry VIII, though hers were much better controlled).

But note that Elizabeth didn't try to alter the English law of marriage or the (rather low) legal status of women. I strongly suspect that it didn't even occur to her. She just didn't think those assumptions applied to her, whom God had made a Queen-regnant... which was probably why she never married; she knew a husband would expect to be boss, and it would be very difficult to deny him political power.

The point being that it's usual in such a culture (virtually all, until recently) for nearly everyone to accept these assumptions, -including most women-.

Including women who themselves transgress assigned gender roles, which happened fairly often. It's not a matter of men anxiously constructing and reconstructing patriarchy against the ever-present menace of an egalitarian, feminist revolution. To put it mildly.

So people who don't act the way the cultural script says they should are not necessarily rebelling against the system or its ideology.

Far more frequently, they're -gaming- the system. Many people (most people, at least in small ways) game the system they're born into when it karks them as individuals. Actual rebellion against its basic precepts, even in thought, is much rarer, particularly in the pre-Modern era. The past is another country, and they do things differently there. Go back more than a few generations, and you are in very alien mental territory.

Conventions about gender also varied widely in the premodern world; there's an interesting set of observations by a Moroccan delegation in early 18th century Spain in which the delegates comment on how the place is an absolute matriarchy in which men are under the control of women and males lack all "manly jealousy".

This is, mind you, -18th century Spain- they're talking about, which gives you an idea of what things must have been like back home.

But this was a difference in degree, not kind, albeit often a fairly large difference in degree.

So if you're writing historical fiction, or fantasy based on premodern Europe, or the Middle East, or Asia, or most of Africa, or ancient Mexico, or whatever, yeah, there's going to be a lot of sexism.

And it's -glaringly anachronistic- to show your p.o.v. characters (of either sex) going around lamenting this and generally expressing a 21st-century consciousness.

You might as well show them with iPods.

SF and fantasy are supposed to be types of fiction open to difference.

Why go into a condition of swoon if what's shown is a society whose culture and ideological underpinnings are violently at odds with your own?
fizzel
181. S.M. Stirling
Which brings up something else: religion.

This is also something where contemporary sensibilities often jarringly appear in historic, or pseudo-historic settings.

What isn't appreciated by all too many writers is that not only was religion (of wildly varied types) overwhelmingly present, omnipresent, in most settings, roughly the way it would be for a very Orthodox Jew or devout Muslim today.

It's that there was a difference in the -way- people believed in their various supernatural narratives.

They didn't believe the way contemporary believers here do.

They believed more the way we believe in atoms.

You could have no more natural religious feeling than a rock (there are people like that, me for example) and you'd still believe, because it was the only available schemata for explaining things.

And unless you were far away from your natural setting, you'd also participate in the various festivals and ceremonies and rituals, because they were an inescapable part of your identity, bound up with the fabric of everyday life.

Historical example: in Venice, there was once a debate over the establishment of a separate compound where Muslim traders from the Ottoman territories could live while resident in Venice, and where they could pursue their customs (the daily prayers, preparation of ritually clean food, etc.) without interference.

Now, Venice was a cosmopolitan trading city which had been in close commercial contact with the Muslim world for centuries; furthermore, it was notoriously irreligious by the standards of the day, well-known for disregarding Papal restrictions on dealings with the infidel.

So in this cosmopolitan trading city... there was a serious debate over whether allowing this compound would bring God's curse on the city, resulting in plagues and storms and so forth.
fizzel
182. Rose Lemberg
S. M. Stirling:

You say:

religion ... overwhelmingly present, omnipresent, in most settings, roughly the way it would be for a very Orthodox Jew or devout Muslim today

and

You could have no more natural religious feeling than a rock (there are people like that, me for example) and you'd still believe, because it was the only available schemata for explaining things.

Strictly speaking, it is unclear whether a Jew is obligated to believe anything, and there is a fair bit of discourse around this. The situation is somewhat different pre-Maimonides and post-Maimonides. There's a good and lucid book about this, unsurprisingly entitled Must a Jew Believe Anything?

Orthodox Judaism is a practice. As a practice it is pervasive in one's life, but as most daily practices it is not something one is fully aware of during daily interactions, even under conditions of modernity.

While religious explanations were predominant in pre-modern times, conflicting religious explanations of phenomena were a thing as well, sometimes even within a single faith, such as within Judaism. It is quite complicated.
fizzel
183. S.M. Stirling
182. Rose LembergWEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12, 2012 10:52PM ESTS. M. Stirling:

>Orthodox Judaism is a practice. As a practice it is pervasive in one's life, but as most daily practices it is not something one is fully aware of during daily interactions, even under conditions of modernity.

-- yeah, that was pretty much my point. Like water to a fish, as I said: all-pervasive.

This is one of the basic features which distinguishes pre- and post-modern religion. The latter, no matter how sincere, is separated from the daily practice of life in a way which the latter was not, and which is only possible (to the degree that it -is- possible) in contemporary Western society by a degree of "internal secession" and social isolation.

Also, while all religions involve both orthopraxy and orthodoxy, it's causitry to deny the element of belief. The system makes no sense without it. You can imagine an Orthodox atheist, but a community of them would be a contradiction in terms, smoke without fire.

Christianity has traditionally emphasized belief over practice rather more than Judaism, not least because it started out as a Jewish heresy trying to appeal beyond the original ethnic core of the religion, but there's a broad overlap.

>While religious explanations were predominant in pre-modern times, conflicting religious explanations of phenomena were a thing as well, sometimes even within a single faith, such as within Judaism. It is quite complicated.

-- yeah, whole books have been written about it... 8-).

The Religions of the Book differ, for example, in fundamental ways from the old Indo-European paganisms(*), but there's a basic similarity in that all-pervasive quality.

(*) and neo-paganism is a completely different kettle of fish.
Joris Meijer
184. jtmeijer
@ S.M. Stirling (180). The message of the post was not about not writing using sexist societies in fiction (which is a related but different discussion). It is that even in historical fiction , using a perfectly correct representation of the culture of the time, there is no reason not to write about the women in the story. And in fantasy, where the perfect representation is broken anyway, there are even less excuses to ignore them.
fizzel
185. Rose Lemberg
not least because it started out as a Jewish heresy trying to appeal beyond the original ethnic core of the religion

Not from the get-go, no, it didn't.

it's causitry to deny the element of belief. The system makes no sense without it

No, it is not. It is what it is. You are obligated to do, and what you believe is pretty much up to you, at least before Maimonides. I have, fyi, received a rabbinical answer about this in the 21st century pertaining to my own practice, from an orthodox rabbi. But obviously you seem to know better!

The system does not have to make sense. There is no requirement for the system to make sense. That is a Christian way of thinking. I don't have to explain even to myself why I eat kosher, or how every single rule of kashrut make sense. I have seen explanations here and there, but they are not needed, strictly speaking. One keeps kashrut according to these rules, and that's pretty much it.

In medieval and pre-modern times, these issues were not as unshakable as you seem to think. You are correct that many books were written about it. Jewish Orthodoxy, for example, was significantly less "orthodox" in pre-Modern times than it is now. In fact, the swing towards greater strictness is a reaction to modernity.

The latter, no matter how sincere, is separated from the daily practice of life in a way which the latter was not, and which is only possible (to the degree that it -is- possible) in contemporary Western society by a degree of "internal secession" and social isolation.

You are making this simplistic and incorrect argument to a Modern Orthodox Jew. Ok then!

In fact, I am not even sure why I am arguing with you, so I am going to stop now.
Mordicai Knode
186. mordicai
175. rayonn

Re: Martin-- thanks for jumping on the thread, I think we might have a chance to elevate the discourse above the din of the "nuh-uh sexism doesn't exist" drone. I think another strong reason to write sexist societies is because sometimes we use fantasy & science fiction as a commentary on the real world, to reflect on issues that matter today. Not always, but especially in science-fiction, that is a whole "thing." In America, we're in a situation where 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted. That gets swept under the rug a lot, but there it is. The threat of sexual assault in Martin's work comes from all corners-- husbands, family members, & yes, strangers-- & it reflects something about the real world. Same thing about patriarchal power structures. Despite what people might say, we've got a patriarchy here in America. A quick persusal of statistics should prove that point. Martin's work implicitly condemns that by having those power structures be harmful to women, & by having women who clearly belong in leadership positions, positions denied to them by their gender.
Mordicai Knode
187. mordicai
178. S.M. Stirling
To someone from a really patriarchal culture, sexism is invisible the way water is to a fish.
& here we are splashing around in it. The irony, oh the irony.
Liz Bourke
188. hawkwing-lb
mordicai @187:

There's something to be said for having gills.

I think there is probably a useful point to be made about learned alienation from one's own society - being able to turn an anthropological viewpoint on your own self is illuminating when it comes to identifying the patterns of force that create our own lived experience of ourselves and the world.

But there are different ways of seeing and relating to experience, and throughout history we have lots of people who've understood unfairness in the patterns of force in their own lives. Cf. Christine de Pisan - and while Margaret Duchess of Newcastle, like many other women who transgressed gender boundaries in obvious ways, had a vested interest in portraying herself as unique to her contemporary audience, her Blazing World and other writings show that she did not conceive of herself as theoretically unique, in being a woman who had an interest in and grasp of natural philosophy.

...in fact, while Her Grace of Newcastle seems to have thought that the state of affairs with regards to the spheres of men and women was both normal and natural for the majority of humankind (she was also an awful classist, as one should expect from a princess of the realm who lived through the English civil war), it stretches the definition of the word to call it invisible to her - or, for that matter, any of her contemporaries.

The patterns of force acting upon the lives of women are only ever invisible to men, just as the patterns of force acting upon social minorities may be safely ignored by the dominant majority.

But women know to the millimetre how much latitude within those patterns they possess, and what they may do without social opprobium or legal consequence. It's a survival skill - and some women will dare social opprobrium or legal consequence anyway, if they have sufficient need or drive (or, as in the case of Duchess Margaret, both the intellectual drive and a supportive husband, or the control of sufficient wealth and power to protect themselves from the most immediate consequences of social transgression). The force is not invisible, because it must be negotiated.

The patterns of force may never be conceived as morally wrong (morally neutral, perhaps), or as something that may be changed (some people talk the world into treating them so special that the usual rules don't apply to them, at least for a while, like Jeanne d'Arc), but they're plenty visible to those that they affect.

What d'you think, mordicai?
Liz Bourke
189. hawkwing-lb
mordicai @187:

I had a whole comment typed out and everything, but either it's stuck in moderation or a grue ate it. (I'm betting on a grue.)
Mordicai Knode
190. mordicai
189. hawkwing-lb

Maybe I tucked it is tucked away somewhere in this giant invisible backpack? If only there was someway to unpack it!
paul Hend
191. tugthis
Mordicai:
It seems the argument has come down to degree and where one falls on the patriarchial/matriarchial spectrum. Where do you think we are on a scale of 0 -100 with 0 being a completely matriarchial culture and 100 being a completly patriarchial culture. Does it matter? Is it the case that sexism changes over time like the sand in an hour glass, as a culture moves from favoring one sex to favoring another?
Liz Bourke
192. hawkwing-lb
mordicai @190:

The invisible knapsack, swallowing discussions about Christine de Pisan and Her Grace Margaret Duchess of Newcastle since... a very long time! I take my hat off to you, sir, I would never have considered it!

(Or would, if I wore a hat. If I wore a hat, it would be cavalier-style, with a plume for extra flourishing.)
Chris Nelly
193. Aeryl
@ 186, One of the most interesting characters for me(even though I still can't stand her) is Cersei, because Feast for Crows really demonstrates how she's been hamstrung by her gender and status.

Catelyn, for all her flaws, was taught to rule, as there was no heir until she was older and her dad had to teach somebody, and this is shown in how she interacts with people. Hell, as the lady of the manor in Winterfell she wielded more power than Cersei ever wielded as Queen, as Cate had to do the actual work of running the place, whereas Cersei had people who did that traditionally women's role for her.

Cersei, who is viewed by Tywin as nothing more than a bargaining chip, is never taught that compromise is a part of ruling, and only uses the power she gets to aggrandize herself. She doesn't select people because of their competence, but on how willing they are to go along with what she wants. She's so focused on taking down her percieved rivals, she doesn't see allowing The Faith too much power could damage her. She takes for granted that everyone will always love her, because she was taught to expect that love, instead of earning it.

This revelation is especially eye opening, IMO, because before you get her POV, she honestly seems like this very smooth and canny operator, but that is also before it is revealed that many of the things you think she did, like the death of Jon Arryn, weren't done by her at all.
Bridget McGovern
194. BMcGovern
hawkwing-lb @188 Damn spam filter--sorry, Liz! It's published now.
Liz Bourke
195. hawkwing-lb
It wasn't a grue! MY COMMENT LIVES! (@188)

(Thanks, Bridget.)
Yvonne Eliot
196. Yvonne
I have to admit that I only made it through about half of the comments on the thread. I am fascinated by the nuances of perspective elicited by the original essay, from market demographics to statistics of "what really happened" to "fantasy is different from history" to religion to... I can't keep up with all of it.

My takeaway?

* Choosing a historical perspective that strictly and solely relies on what men recorded as being important is lazy writing.

* Creating characters who don't fully inhabit their lives -- regardless of gender, culture, ethnicity, etc. -- is lazy writing.

* Not making an effort to include a range of characters with differing viewpoints and experiences is lazy writing.

Carry on.
:D
fizzel
197. S.M. Stirling
184. jtmeijerVIEW ALL BY JTMEIJER | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 07:53AM EST@ S.M. Stirling (180). The message of the post was not about not writing using sexist societies in fiction (which is a related but different discussion). It is that even in historical fiction , using a perfectly correct representation of the culture of the time, there is no reason not to write about the women in the story.

-- who does that? Outside some stories focused on a very narrow set of characters (a small group of soldiers, for example).

Thinking back on the historical fiction I've read, I can't recall a single instance of a book with a substantial set of characters which -didn't- include women.

>And in fantasy, where the perfect representation is broken anyway, there are even less excuses to ignore them.

-- who does? I read a lot of fantasy, and I can't recall anyone doing that.

Tolkein doesn't, and for the most part LOTR is a description of a small group of adventurers wandering around fighting wargs and orcs and invading Mordor in disguise.

Even there, there are occasional women; Eowyn, frex. Most of the political authority figures are male, but some aren't -- Galadriel, to take an obvious example. When the adventurers are in normal, civilian places there are the usual percentage of females.

Who does have big fantasy stories without any women in them? George Martin? Not that I noticed.
fizzel
198. S.M. Stirling
185. Rose LembergTHURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 08:30AM EST

>Not from the get-go, no, it didn't.

-- quite correct; but you may notice we are talking in short paragraphs about -really big subjects- and hence, necessarily, at a high level of generalization.

The statement about early Christianity is accurate at that level; that it started out as a Jewish heresy (true) and that it dropped a lot of stuff to appeal to gentiles (also true in the context of the first couple of centuries).

> and what you believe is pretty much up to you, at least before Maimonides.

-- because the element of belief was -taken for granted-. You don't need to articulate what isn't in dispute.

Do you think that lots of pre-Maimoides Jews didn't believe God existed and that He wanted Jews to do certain things? Really?

> That is a Christian way of thinking.

-- Odd, because I've heard long explanations from Jewish people about why it -does- make sense. (Which, if you grant the initial premises, it does.)

I don't represent all post-Christian secularists and you don't represent all Jews.

We are, as Monty Python made clear, all individuals.

>You are making this simplistic and incorrect argument to a Modern Orthodox Jew.

-- well, yeah. So?

Why do you assume your personal religious status gives you grounds for the Argument from Authority?

In fact, there's a strong line of reasoning that no belief system can be really understood entirely from the inside, because the fish can't see the water.

>Ok then! In fact, I am not even sure why I am arguing with you, so I am going to stop now.

-- Well, it's fairly obvious why you're stopping... 8-).
fizzel
199. S.M. Stirling
186. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 10:03AM EST175. rayonn

Despite what people might say, we've got a patriarchy here in America.

-- did anyone say we didn't?
marian moore
200. mariesdaughter
I read "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire" a few years back and that cured me of thinking that the women in an empire had no role. I would admit that it's difficult presenting that kind of real life history to people who are accustomed to thinking that women were acted upon and never acted. It's difficult to even include an active woman in a story in which other women are forced into more constrainted roles.
Mordicai Knode
201. mordicai
191. tugthis

I enthusiastically reject the spectrum you've provided. Patriarchy versus Matriarchy? Can't we just try to avoid Kyriarchy in all of its forms?

192. hawkwing-lb

I think a lot about Cyrano's famous white plume & its role in etymology. Apropos of...well, nothing.

193. Aeryl

Exactly! I find that discussions of GRRM's purported "sexism" are often simply people taking the explicit misogyny of Westeros (etc) & failing to do any lit crit on the implicit condemnation. Not that I'm saying GRRM's neccisarily some feminist hero, but I think it bears careful consideration.
fizzel
202. S.M. Stirling
193. AerylVIEW ALL BY AERYL | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 01:27PM EST@ 186, is Cersei, because Feast for Crows really demonstrates how she's been hamstrung by her gender and status.

-- it's more a matter of her being hamstrung by arrogance, impulsiveness and the fact that she's really not very bright.

(Her handsome brother has some of the same characteristics; dumb, arrogant , insanely touchy, spoiled-brat nobles are not scarce, either in the book or the late-medieval Europe it's based on.)

Catelyn, for all her flaws, was taught to rule, as there was no heir until she was older and her dad had to teach somebody,

-- it's Cersei who's the exception. All noblewomen are taught to manage their households (a very big job, at the higher levels) and it's taken for granted that noblewomen can be and often are political "players".

Positions of authority are generally held by men but noblewomen ruling either in their own right or as regents aren't unknown, and in fact aren't even all that rare. The structure of inheritance and feudal law make it inevitable.

It's a family-based political system and all the members of the family are involved, though of course not equally.

Even Cersei was better at it than a certain Lord Stark.
Mordicai Knode
203. mordicai
202. S.M. Stirling

Yes, but that is precisely the point; her spoiled, arrogant handsome brother is a hero of the realm, the heir of Casterly Rock, & consistantly given a pass to do...well, largely whatever he wants. Cersei is sold to Robert as political capital. Therein lies the rub.
It's a family-based political system and all the members of the family are involved, though of course not equally.
I guess the question is "why 'of course not equally'" then?
fizzel
204. m. scott veach
I'm just excited that the author has cracked what makes the most interesting stories! This is fantastic! Now, I know better than to write any science fiction where science goes right or explore any patriarchical society where woman don't start to crack it apart.

I can't believe people are making a bigger deal about this... I'm fairly sure this is the first time anyone has definitively determined the MOST interesting approach to anything. And not just one thing! Two things! WE'LL NEVER BE BORED AGAIN!
fizzel
205. S.M. Stirling
191. tugthisVIEW ALL BY TUGTHIS | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 01:09PM EST

It seems the argument has come down to degree and where one falls on the patriarchial/matriarchial spectrum.

-- not in any real way. There has never been a matriarchal culture, in the sense that there have been and are patriarchal ones; that is, there has never been a culture in which it's as much of a disadvantage to be male as it has usually been to be female.

The question of degree is -how- patriarchal a given place or time is. This has varied widely.

On this scale, the contemporary West comes out far, far ahead -- we have the cleanest dirty shirt in the historical wardrobe, you might say. Far from perfect, much better than we were, and miles better than anyone else.

There have been innumerable revolutions and revolts throughout human history: revolts of oppressed ethnic groups, secessionist nationalities, religious revolts, revolts of slaves(*), of serfs, of proletarians, and so forth.

It's notable that there has never been a physical revolt of women seeking to reverse the power relations between the genders by force. Comparing women to other disadvantaged social groups is a useful metaphor, but you have to be careful about it.

There has been a -political and cultural- struggle over the distribution of social/political/economic power between the genders in Western civilization over the past couple of centuries, and in areas influenced by the West (by now pretty much everywhere except a few real backwaters).

Even this wasn't and isn't a simple contest between the genders as unified camps; it's more a shift in the way people conceptualize social relations and how they think about the relationship between individuals and society, which then has more directly political implications.

It's "no accident" that this is almost entirely a post-Enlightenment phenomenon; you have to start thinking about society in those terms (basically rights-oriented positivist individualism and analytical reductionism) before feminism in our sense becomes intellectually possible or comprehensible.

There are a few prefigurements -- in Classical Greek philosophy and art, for instance -- but really not much.

(*) but only one successful slave revolt, IRRC -- Santo Domingo/Haiti. Successful in the sense that it overthrew the system and abolished slavery within its borders.
Mordicai Knode
206. mordicai
204. m. scott veach

Scott, that straw man you've got there looks really itchy to carry around. Don't you get itchy?
fizzel
207. S.M. Stirling
203. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 03:35PM EST202.

Yes, but that is precisely the point; her spoiled, arrogant handsome brother is a hero of the realm, the heir of Casterly Rock, & consistantly given a pass to do...well, largely whatever he wants.

-- as I recall, he spends a lot of time in an iron cage, and variously being starved, beaten, mutilated, poked with sticks and threatened with death precisely because he's an arrogant git who makes big mistakes. Because he thinks (at least at first) that the sun shines out of his butt.

Basically the same thing that gets his sister the chop eventually, only with her it takes longer.

Tyrian, who's the brains in his generation of the family, gets consistently treated like crap (and generally assumed to be evil) simply because he's short and ugly.

Cersei is sold to Robert as political capital. Therein lies the rub.

-- do you recall what happens to a certain Rob Stark when he tries (against the frantic warnings of his mother) to refuse an arranged marriage and marry for love instead?

As in, "he gets killed".

The thing about an arranged marriage is that it's arranged -for both parties-. Robert Baratheon no more gets to marry who he wants than Cersei does. He -can't-, no matter how powerful he is.

And then there's what his dad did to Tyrian when he tried to marry below his standing for love. Eeek!

Men had more freedom to seek sexual satisfactions outside of marriage (the double standard) but even that was often more theoretical than real. See, Cersei and her brother.

I guess the question is "why 'of course not equally'" then?

-- why don't they have democracy and universal suffrage? Same reason: it would be grossly unrealistic in a setting based on a preindustrial society, and specifically on late-medieval Europe.

Westeros is actually rather less sexist than 15th-century Europe. Eg., women warriors like Brienne are often mocked and insulted, but are basically accepted if they can cut it.

There were women who fought in medieval Europe, but it was rarer and more dangerous, and they generally had to "pass" as men to get away with it.

One of the (many) reasons Joan of Arc got burned was that she insisted on wearing male clothing, which was not only against custom but formally and violently illegal, and which was popularly associated with suspicion of heresy and witchcraft.

When dealing with a medieval society, and particularly with nobles, you have to keep in mind that these people did not think of themselves as individuals in the way we do.

They thought of themselves as embodiments of their bloodlines. "Family values", rather literally.
Mordicai Knode
208. mordicai
207. S.M. Stirling

Yes, Tyrion is a sterling example of ableist prejudice, too.
do you recall what happens to a certain Rob Stark when he tries (againstthe frantic warnings of his mother) to refuse an arranged marriage andmarry for love instead?
You mean Rob, the fully complicit & consenting?
why don't they have democracy and universal suffrage? Same reason: itwould be grossly unrealistic in a setting based on a preindustrial society, and specifically on late-medieval Europe.
Well here we are back on the core of the post, I guess. How is that less unrealistic than, say, ice zombies or dragons? Or okay, let's grant that monsters are a different category of suspension of disbelief. Then why is a civilization founded on rape & Cthulhu worship more plausible than an egalatarian society? Why is the only matriarchy mentioned one of sex workers? I think it is very potent comentary on our culture that a culture that wasn't misogynistic would be unbelievable.
fizzel
209. S.M. Stirling
Another thing you have to bear in mind when dealing with noble households in medieval Europe, or settings based therein, was that a high noble's household was overwhelmingly male, numerically.

The only women in a baron's "familia", the group who attended on him in his castle if he had one and who and travelled with him from estate to estate, would be his wife, his unmarried daughters if any, their attendants, and some women who did the laundry.

Everyone else -- including what we'd think of as the domestic servants -- were men. A lot of the "courtly love" tradition was born of an environment in which, for long periods of time, upper-class young men lived an a world where they outnumbered their female equivalents 5 to 1 or more. They left home early as pages, and generally didn't marry until they inherited land or the equivalent.

The reason for this was that a baron's household was a "riding household", a military unit, the core of his -menie-. Everyone in it, right down to the scullions, was expected to be able to fight instantly if called on to do so.

The converse of this was that a bit down the social pyramid, gentry women spent their days in a largely female world, because the men (particularly their sons, but also often their husbands when the latter were attending on their liege) were off with the baron.

At the level of a knight holding a single manor, this meant that his lady was in charge a lot of the time. There would be a (male) bailiff and so forth, but usually when the lord was away they'd refer to the chatelaine, though a lot there depended on personal factors.

Also, at the very highest level (counts and up, roughly) noblewomen had their own households, with their own hierarchy of rank among their followers and their own estates to support it. A king didn't "live with" his queen in our sense.

A countess (including a dowager countess) was a very considerable figure. Men in general were socially superior to women, but an ordinary knight would be very defferential indeed to the Countess X, or be very sorry very quickly.
Mordicai Knode
210. mordicai
209. S.M. Stirling

As usual, I just disagree with assuming Europe as a baseline. Especially when you try to cherrypick from a range of cultures & periods of history to find one that was representative of...a fictional milieu.
.
fizzel
212. Al Harron
Sure, go back to "classic" fantasy (Moorcock, Lieber, Burroughs, Howard) and female characters are almost exclusively eye candy or damels in distress
From what little I've read of Leiber and the lot from Howard, I'd dare say they both wrote of quite a few female characters who were not eye candy or damsels in distress. Burroughs too. Obviously not to the effect of modern fantasy, but hardly "almost exclusively" too.
fizzel
213. S.M. Stirling
208. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 04:41PM EST207.

Yes, Tyrion is a sterling example of ableist prejudice, too.

-- I do not know of a single society in human history in which it wasn't a handicap to be ugly and short. Nor do I know of one where it's not an advantage to be close to the local canons of pleasing appearance.

I very much doubt that there ever will be such a society(*).

Saying that everyone should take people on their merits and disregard appearances is like saying that life would be great if we all abided by the Golden Rule: it's true, technically, but it's a meaningless waste of time because it's so divorced from actual human life.

Mind you, if you have to be ugly and short, it's a lot better to be a short, ugly aristocrat rather than, say, a short ugly peasant.

You mean Rob, the fully complicit & consenting?

-- he's consenting in the sense that he accepts that someone of his social rank has to marry as a political alliance, in this case picked by his mother, IIRC. His sisters think pretty much the same thing.

When he withdraws his consent, he gets killed for it. Marriage was not a matter of personal choice for people in his class, period. One of the few ways you might well be better off as a peasant.

Then why is a civilization founded on rape & Cthulhu worship more plausible than an egalatarian society?

-- frequency. Rape is, alas, present nearly everywhere, and religions involving lots of Bad Stuff are common as dirt.

Egalitarianism in the sense you're using it is merely an aspiration.

Adventure is defined as "someone else in deep shit far away".

You're confusing a society being interesting to -read about- as a setting for adventure (or other narratives) and with it being what one would -like to live in-.

Remember Niven's Law?

I think it is very potent comentary on our culture that a culture that wasn't misogynistic would be unbelievable.

-- nope, not really. The ancient Greeks -- whose actual practice was far more misogynistic than ours -- had myths of Amazons. And the Athenians worshipped an armed Goddess. Didn't make 'em one whit less bad for actual living women.

(*) though on a SFnal note, given current advances in genetics it'll be possible to determine your childrens' appearance quite soon. I suspect that there will be a -lot- of people running around who look like Kate Blanchett.
fizzel
215. S.M. Stirling
210. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | THURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 05:01PM EST

As usual, I just disagree with assuming Europe as a baseline.

-- fine. Let's explore some of the alternatives.

Where else did you have in mind? Tang China? Kamakura Japan? Abbasaid Baghdad? Tenochtitlan? Classical Athens? The plains Lakota? India under the Guptas?

Dude, I've got bad news: the status of women in Western history, bad as it often was, was usually -better- than the alternatives. Certainly better than any of the other big agriculture-based civilizations. As far as I know, and I've been studying social history intensively for a long time.

You can come up with fantasy preindustrial cultures that have a better position for women; I've done it myself, several times.

But you have to do some inventive worldbuiling -- for example, you need to get infant mortality rates down well below the level they actually were anywhere before the 19th century, and that just for starters.

(Because where the chance of a child dying before it made it to reproductive age was high, that meant that most women were going to spend a very large proportion of their adult lives pregnant, nursing, or caring for small children.)
paul Hend
216. tugthis
Mordicai @ 201 I admit to having to look up Kyriarchy. No we can't avoid it.
fizzel
217. S.M. Stirling
212. Al HarronTHURSDAY DECEMBER 13, 2012 07:20PM EST

Sure, go back to "classic" fantasy (Moorcock, Lieber, Burroughs, Howard) and female characters are almost exclusively eye candy or damels in distress

-- yeah, you're right Al, this simply isn't so.

Howard? Belit, the pirate queen? Valeria, pirate and mercenary? And so on and so forth.

Not true of Burroughs, either.

Lots of active heroines in Burroughs -- Llana of Gathol, frex. Or to take one of his mainstream characters, the junkie (and possibly gay, though that's ambiguous) heroine of THE GIRL FROM HOLLYWOOD who goes cold turkey by sheer willpower and thwarts the bad guys.

Certainly not true of Leiber, either.

Been a long time since I read Moorcock.

Not to mention Jirel of Joirey and other heroines of classic fantasy; Yolande in Barringer's SHY LEOPARDESS, for instance.

Dudes, this no-women-in-it fantasy seems to be a bit of a... fantasy.
Alan Brown
218. AlanBrown
I can think of plenty of fantasy or historical stories that have little or no women in them, but like someone (Mr. Stirling maybe?) said above, they all involved going to sea, or to battle, or going exploring, or engaging in an activity that (in the past) was pretty much a male endeavor. Once the narrative comes back to civilization, women show up in the story again. For example, RL Stevenson might have pretty much ignored women in Kidnapped, but in the sequel, the male and female characters got equal play.
I must say, this discussion is quite enlightening. For example, this is the first time I ever ran across the term 'ableist.' And, while discussing the viewpoints of fictional characters, it is interesting to see the viewpoints of everyone being prominently displayed. The same diversity of viewpoints that drives the discussion is also the type of conflict that drives a narrative, something that I need to ponder as I turn to the project that I should be working on, instead of poking around on websites.
fizzel
219. ammon17
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time... Sure there are women in his story. Lots and lots of women. There are so many women, Jordan didn't know what to do with all of them. Oh wait, yes he did. Every time I read WOT - I am ever amazed at the number of ways he can find to make them degradingly erotic.
The Wheel of Time. Still, the most epically sexist series I have ever read.
Ann Leckie
220. hautdesert
@ AlanBrown

I can think of plenty of fantasy or historical stories that have little or no women in them, but like someone (Mr. Stirling maybe?) said above, they all involved going to sea, or to battle, or going exploring, or engaging in an activity that (in the past) was pretty much a male endeavor.

I had a really interesting thing happen last year, when I decided to read all of the Aubrey/Maturin novels in a row. Suddenly in the last novel or so, all these women appear on board the ship. Stephen even comments on it, asking Jack if he didn't always go on about not wanting women on board and there are all these women! Who do work on the ship, who sail right along with the men. And Jack says something like, Oh, these don't count!

And I thought to myself, here's O'Brien, did all this research on the period, and suddenly realizes, however many books in, that the women who yes, lived and worked on these ships had been invisible to him all this time, until he saw something in a log somewhere, or someone pointed it out to him. It wouldn't surprise me if he'd seen the women in the records the whole time but the idea of the ship as an all-male endeavor encouraged his dismissing them as exceptions, or not really worth noticing even though they were in front of his face, but one day something clicked and he went "Oh, I've been missing this all this time."

And that's not even mentioning the (already frequently mentioned in this thread) women who posed as men so they could go to war or go to sea.

My point being, even those supposedly historically all-male environments weren't, necessarily. The women were there, they've just been invisible all this time. A writer can of course make a choice to leave them out, but once again, to say it's because these really were historically all-male environments and it would be impossible to include women and be accurate won't fly.
Maiane Bakroeva
221. Isilel
S.M. Stirling @215:
But you have to do some inventive worldbuiling -- for example, you need to get infant mortality rates down well below the level they actually were anywhere before the 19th century, and that just for starters.
Not really true, is it? Given how many societies before that practiced infanticide and/or had a sizeable part of female population that never married - nuns, servants, etc. So this idea that every womb was universally needed for procreation is a bit of myth, no?

And really, it wouldn't take much to have society where religion never supressed medicine to the degree that it did in our history. Heck, there were periods and places where it was actually relatively decent even in RL past.

IMHO, much of depiction of women in fantasy is a result of pure laziness, which also affects depiction of magic and how it is almost never used to do anything constructive and/or to make money which, in turn should drastically change society, but almost always just for battle. Oh no, this wizard could conjure/make whatever he needs for comfortable life or his skills should be in high demand?
Too bad, we want him poor, so he will be, no matter how implausible it is within the setting and contrary to basic human self-interest.

That's so the author can crib whatever story/battle they want from whatever pop history source they have to hand, hastily throw in some magic/ fantasy races in and be done.
What do you mean fortresses and castles make no sense, when you have sufficiently destructive magic/teleportation? Everybody expects to see them in a fantasy! Etc., etc.

Or like, you know, magical healing in fantasy that brings our hero back from certain death a number of times, almost never gets applied to problems of childbirth, fertility or general health.

Ditto cloning in SF, actually. The number of books with cloned adult bodies and transfer of consciousness! Yet only in a few of them is the tecnology applied to actual childbirth ( Bujold, Cherryh, etc), while in all the rest women continue to birth kids the normal way! Even though, technologically, it is clearly a simpler problem than the former and takes care of a lot of inconveniences and risks. But of course it is not "cool" enough, so...
Mordicai Knode
222. mordicai
213. S.M. Stirling
&
216. tugthis

Gosh it just sure is convienant that the cynical "oh well" school of "there is always going to go be discrimination" tends to bend toward the current hierarchy of white straight male discrimination, huh? Just a weird total coincidence, I guess.

215. S.M. Stirling

It is interesting that you bring up infant mortality; as someone with a little bit of schooling on the subject-- for the rough cuts I enthusiastically recommend Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's "Mother Nature"-- you'd be surprised how easy it would be to seriously boost infant mortality rates. In fact, it is as easy as "why not give some babies some cow milk?" in a lot of cases. That right there, in fact, is the basis of one of the fictional civilizations in my RPG campaign.
paul Hend
223. tugthis
Mordicai, are you just being arch or giving up? That it is that way does not mean that I like it or want it. But my understanding of human nature is there there is always an imbalance of power between individuals, and groups of individuals. I believe that is what makes fiction go. The question then is how does a writer deal with those imbalances. Wishing there were none to me is not just unrealistic, it is a game ender; that they tilted in a particular direction is fine--imagine them tilting any way you like.
Gerd K
224. Kah-thurak
What I would find quite interesting would be some examples of current, (at least moderately successfull) fantasy authors that acutally do ignore female characters in their books/stories. Because while there are examples in the "classical' works (I named the Riverworld series for example), in the modern books I read I dont find this sort of thing. Some actually do use sexist societies, but they usually do this in a way that shows these societies as flawed and injust because of it. If I look at my two favourite authors you get
a) Patrick Rothfuss, who has a somewhat patriarchal "mainstream" society, and also a smaller matriarchal society and in general interesting and diverse characters of both sexes.

b) Steven Erikson, who does use a more or less egaliterian society (with some groups that deviate from that) and a very broad mix of male and female characters

So, who would the examples be?
Alan Brown
225. AlanBrown
@hautdesert. I am an avid O'Brian reader myself, and know exactly what scene you are referring to. But I wouldn't put too much stock in that being a sign that there was a large female presence on British naval vessels of the period. I suspect that O'Brian saw some historical reference to a woman on a ship, who since they shouldn't have been there, wouldn't have been listed as a member of the crew, and started to think, "I wonder how much this happened," and then had a little fun with it in the conversation between Jack and Stephen. I would say that you did sometimes see women allowed aboard military ships, but from all the history I have read, that was a rare exception.
And, despite the many songs along the lines of 'Willie Taylor,' I would say that the cross-dressing woman who went to sea would be extremely rare. There was not a lot of privacy on the gun deck of a warship.
I can say with personal knowledge that there were no women on US military ships back when I was young and going to sea. So yes, even in the not too distant past, there were many pockets in society that were all-male environments. In fact, only this year are the first young women serving on US submarines, the last bastion of all male crews in the US Navy.
fizzel
226. S.M. Stirling
S.M. Stirling @215:

and/or had a sizeable part of female population that never married - nuns, servants, etc.

-- you have to look at that in detail. Eg., nuns were never a demographically significant element; in broad terms, nunneries were a place to park surplus upper-class females, to avoid dividing the family patrimony. (Oversimplification alert, btw.)

It turns out that there are very few societies in which a substantial number of women don't marry, and they involve rather eccentric forms of social and economic organization.

The default pattern is for all or nearly all women to marry (in some form or other) fairly soon after puberty, and then to have children at fairly regular intervals until some form of biological infertility intervenes.

There are exceptions: the biggest is our own culture. Women in western and northern Europe (north and west of a line drawn between St. Petersburg and Venice, roughly) tended to marry late (mid-20's, a full decade after puberty) and a substantial number never married; over 15%, in some periods, usually at least 5%.

This pattern holds as far back as we have any data. It may be a medieval development, or it may be very old indeed.

(Late Stuart England approached 20% never-married, for example. OTOH, late Stuart England had a declining population, not a sustainable arrangement in the long term.)

The reasons for this "European family pattern" are very complex; suffice it to say it also went with an unsually low infant and maternal mortality rate. High by our standards, low globally. Accompanying it went a relatively low birth rate -- TFR's of about 4 to 6, as opposed to 7 and up.

By no accident whatsoever, the status of women in that area tended to be higher than in areas to the south and east.

But even in Western civ., -married- women tended to have a "natural" fertility pattern; they started having children when they married, and continued to do so until they couldn't, at 18-24 month intervals.

That's why the age at last pregnancy was so much higher than it is now, despite the fact that menopause is now somewhat later.

This pattern wasn't substantially broken until the 19th century, when deliberate limitation of births within marriage (rather than by delaying marriage or not marrying) became common, in France first, then spreading to other areas and down the social scale.

(Another generalization alert: this is an incredibly complex subject, and has required a lot of extremely difficult research to tease out behavior patterns.)

And really, it wouldn't take much to have society where religion never supressed medicine to the degree that it did in our history.

-- religion didn't supress medicine. Where did you get that idea?

People were just largely pig-ignorant of what caused disease; there were some rule-of-thumb maxims that worked (avoid swamps, etc.) and a few folk remedies that worked, but most of what they thought they knew was actively wrong. Apart from setting bones or consulting the local midwife, until well into the Victorian period you were well advised to avoid medical practitioners if you got sick.

The essential thing was that they didn't know the mechanism of bacterial and viral infection. That was why infectious disease was the primary cause of death, and why people tended to die at all ages rather than mostly in old age, as with us. It was also why childhood (and childbirth) were so very dangerous.

The modern mortality pattern is a product of germ theory and its public-health consquences, essentially of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

which also affects depiction of magic and how it is almost never used to do anything constructive

-- the problem here is that while before the Enlightenment (and after it, though decreasingly so) people generally believed magic worked, magic actually didn't work.

So we have no historical examples for societies with genuine, functional magic (or alchemy).

If magic is really powerful, then you get economies and societies violently different from the models most fantasy is based on.

Something more like Poul Anderson or Heinlein's or Sprague de Camp's stuff, where magic takes the place of industrial tech.
fizzel
227. S.M. Stirling
222. mordicaiVIEW ALL BY MORDICAI | FRIDAY DECEMBER 14, 2012 09:27AM EST213. S.M. Stirling

Gosh it just sure is convienant that the cynical "oh well" school of "there is always going to go be discrimination" tends to bend toward the current hierarchy of white straight male discrimination, huh?

-- since we were talking about the consequences of being short and ugly, I really don't know what you're talking about.

Unless you're proceeding from an assumption of bad faith on the part of anyone who disagrees with you, which makes civilized discussion impossible.

It is interesting that you bring up infant mortality;

-- it's an important, but little-recognized factor. As are disease patterns generally -- people tend to underestimate their importance.

Eg., most of Napoleon's army in Russia died of typhus, probably over 70%. The typhus epidemic was what made that come out the way it did. Fear of troops catching typhus was crucial to military decision-making as late as the Balkan campaigns of WWI.

Historical demography is a hobby of mine; I've been reading intensively in it for decades.

you'd be surprised how easy it would be to seriously boost infant mortality rates.

-- I presume you actually mean -reduce- infant mortality rates? No hu-hu, we all make typos, but just to be clear.

In fact, it is as easy as "why not give some babies some cow milk?" in a lot of cases.

-- only if you know about sterilizing it and rigorously follow the procedures for doing so.

Raw cow milk is hideously dangerous to children (and to a lesser degree to adults) if you're not extremely and knowledgeably careful, which accounts for the widespread prejudice against it. It's also not nutritionally adequate unless supplemented.

Milk is a perfect bacterial culture unless sterilized and refrigerated, the former unknown and the latter extremely difficult until recently. Cheese and butter are (somewhat) safer.

Cow milk is also much less digestible to human infants than human milk, particularly if not treated.

This is why we feed babies "formula", not milk.

Also, mother's milk in the first few weeks after birth contains elements ("colostrum") which provide a substantial protection against intestinal infections until the baby's immune system is up to speed.

The widespread use of wet-nurses for newborns in the old days boosted infant deaths, for this reason among others.

Unless you've got modern bacteriological and nutritional knowledge, or some fantasy equivalent, mother's milk is best (if you can get it; cow milk is better than nothing, of course).

Even with modern formulas and precautions, breastfeeding is still probably best in most cases, though not always and not to a very significant degree.

Early weaning is also somewhat dangerous.

"It isn't what you don't know that'll kill you: it's what you think you know that just... ain't... so..."
fizzel
228. S.M. Stirling
224. Kah-thurakVIEW ALL BY KAH-THURAK | FRIDAY DECEMBER 14, 2012 10:10AM EST

What I would find quite interesting would be some examples of current, (at least moderately successfull) fantasy authors that acutally do ignore female characters in their books/stories. Because while there are examples in the "classical' works (I named the Riverworld series for example),

-- if you mean Phil Farmer's Riverworld series, that's not a very good example.

There are a lot of female characters in that one -- and the 20th/21st century ones are often quite militantly feminist. The dirigible pilot, for example.

Even the Victorian characters like Richard Burton and Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) often shed some of their prejudices in the course of the books.

This is perfectly realistic. The Riverworld contains all the people who've ever lived, which means that a large proportion are going to be moderns.

And there are no children, and no disease, and subsistence is essentially "free".

In that setting, a sexually egalitarian setup becomes perfectly credible, and that's what happens in many parts of the Riverworld.
fizzel
229. S.M. Stirling
And on a crass business note, an author would be very, very stupid to ignore women if they were writing fantasy today.

The fantasy audience is at -least- half female.

The SF audience used to be heavily male, but I'm pretty sure that this is either no longer so, or not nearly so much so as it used to be.

I'm much less familar with the situation in gaming.

I've been using female protagonists about as often as male since I started publishing in the 1980's.

Not for any particular reason that I know of, it was just the way it welled up from my subconscious.

Mind you, when I'm writing from a female p.o.v., I always run the manuscript by a couple of female readers first. It ain't what you don't know...

This practice has also gotten me some good dialogue. One of my post-apocalyptic stories has a character reflecting: "What do we do when the last sports bra dies?"
fizzel
230. S.M. Stirling
225. AlanBrownVIEW ALL BY ALANBROWN | FRIDAY DECEMBER 14, 2012 06:44PM EST@hautdesert.

I would say that you did sometimes see women allowed aboard military ships, but from all the history I have read, that was a rare exception.

-- some of the warrant officers were routinely allowed to take their wives to sea.

The master gunner, for example. The gunner's wife then looked after the "squeakers", the very young midshipmen. This is mentioned from early on in the Aubrey/Maturin series. IIRC that regulation was changed in Victorian times.

And, despite the many songs along the lines of 'Willie Taylor,' I would say that the cross-dressing woman who went to sea would be extremely rare.

-- definitely quite rare, but not -extremely- or vanishingly rare.

I've run across a number of cases myself in the original documents, usually being registered when the woman in question was discovered.

Eg., one case on a Bristol slaver off the Guinea coast, after a brush with a French privateer, where a "man" turned out to be a woman when the ship's surgeon cut off his/her breeches to get at a big splinter in the thigh. This ship had been at sea for over three months.

The captain recorded it, had some female clothing run up for the woman, and put her to work with the cook. He was surprised and amused, but not flabbergasted (or very shocked or upset).

Physical examinations were very cursory, where they happened at all, even in the Navy.

And they had a -very powerful- nudity taboo. It would be perfectly normal for a man never to take off his clothes on shipboard where anyone could see him; he'd be regarded as a bit prissy, but nothing out of the ordinary.

(It would also be possible for a man to go through his entire life without ever seeing a woman naked by daylight.)

Also, it was easier for a woman to pass for a man then. In a society with very strong dress distinctions, the eye literally does not see stuff that's obvious to us.

We're much more conscious of the actual physical secondary sexual characteristics than our ancestors used to be, because we're used to seeing men and women wearing roughly the same sort of clothing.

Eg., I've run across numerous cases of Afghans who literally do not realize that the American soldier they're seeing is female, even if it's glaringly obvious to us. They see the pants and the gun and the mind says: "Male."

Devla Murphy expereienced the same thing in her hiking travels in Ethiopia; several times when she showed up in a village they'd ask what gender she was, and then have a woman take her into a hut and do a pants-down check just to be sure.

(The book is called IN ETHIOPIA WITH A MULE, which I highly recommend.)

The eye sees what it's accustomed to see.
fizzel
231. Sean the Bookonaut
To return to Dr Robert's points. What I got from the post was the "But history was/is sexist" is a catch cry that can cover poor representation of women in what is essentially a modern form of storytelling (ie the novel.), aimed at entertaining modern audiences.

If your novel is going for gritty realism that piggybacks on history then sexism inherent in society is probably going to be a necessity, and I don't have an issue with that personally if it is important to the story. There is a distinct line between an interrogation of that sexism and misogyny for kicks.

For example, I don't have an issue with Martin in his series but I think the HBO adaptation is guilty of taking what is essentially a writer working within the sexist cultures and showing powerful women with agency and more than ocassionally tapping into the pubescent misogynist in its male audience.

There's several scenes from the books that HBO goes overboard in presenting the mysogyny/sexism of the world - to a point where it's verging on humiliation porn and there are some scenes that target fear of the other in the audience to elicit an emotional reaction too that bears examination, but that's a whole other discussion.

Joe Abercrombie writes in the same vein as Martin, gritty but thankfully shorter and faster. I love his work but I can see where he can be criticised for his representtion of women - Bk 1 of the first law we get a victim of familial violence and an ex(sex ?) slave with a pathological hatred of almost everyone, as significant female characters.

Could he have written in a strong female head of noble household, someone who could have put the wind up Glokta and still had an enjoyable, gritty blood in your eyes fantasy. I think so.

Red Country, his latest, has several powerful women(one who shares top billing) integral to the story and his reseach of the history(formation of the American West) underpins this. The reader is shown the importance and participation of women and it makes the story more realistic and interesting. Still very bloody and violent too :)

So I can only appluad Dr Roberts suggestions. It isn't a call for a lead female in every book and for the main charcater to be a dressmaker or a florist, although I seem to recall someone writing a very bloody and racey fantasy along those lines.

It's a call to think about how your're writing that sexism, how you can involve more women in your tales, how this might add an extra dimension to your work.

If writers, fans and readers react strongly to these suggestions in the negative I think that's an interesting and revealing response.

But then I am the beneficiary of writers who opperate on the points Dr Robert's has outlined above - having participated in a reading and reviewing challenge this year focussing on Australian Women Writers, reading some 30 odd Australian female fantasy writers, some of whom match Martin and Abercrombie for brutality, grittyness and action.
fizzel
232. JohnnyMac
S. M. Stirling @230 "The eye sees what it's accustomed to see."

Gillian Bradshaw makes good use of this truth in her historical novel "The Beacon at Alexandria". Her heroine, a aristocratic young woman of Ephesus during the waning days of the Roman Empire, is threatened with being forced to marry a powerful and cruel Imperial official. To escape this fate, she disguises herself as an eunuch and flees to Alexandria. Men's clothing, a man's haircut and some discreet corsetry to look the part. Seems a bit girlish? Oh a eunuch, that explains it. Bradshaw makes this both convincing and the basis for a damn good story.

To anyone looking for historical/fantasy fiction with vivid, strong and credible female characters, I would strongly recommend Gillian Bradshaw's work. Aside from "The Beacon at Alexandria", other titles I recommend for this are "Imperial Purple", "Alchemy of Fire", "Render Unto Ceasar", "Wolf Hunt" and "London in Chains". Of course, I recommend her books in general because she tells gripping stories that reflect a deep knowledge of the eras that they are set in.
Chris Nelly
233. Aeryl
@231 I agree with you on the HBO show vs the books, for the most part. I think an argument can be made for using that stuff in a manor that forwards the story, and there are ways the show fails in that.

But I do give the show credit for the prostitute character Ros, because while a lot of her scenes are the ones you mention, they have done two things with her that I like. Number one, she gives the audience a through line to all the sexual violence in the book, which I think helps you empathize with her more than you would necessarily if it was a different character every week. And secondly, it seems they are finally allowing her character some agency, so that will be fascinating to watch.
fizzel
234. kimikimi
@227. S.M. Stirling

Did you honestly just try to teach a forum full of women the importance and value of breast milk? You do realize that some of the people you argue against are parents that know what
"colostrum" is and the value it provides babies, right?

I appreicate your efforts to be scientific, i really do, but it's really starting to look a bit arrogant and I'm sure that's not your goal. It may be your field of interest (you do know a lot on the subject), but don't explain it like you are talking to a room of six year olds please.
fizzel
235. JohnnyMac
kimikimi @234, I am sure S. M. Stirling is fully capable of defending himself but I do feel the need to point out that his discussion of the value of breast milk (@227) was in response to the assertion of mordicai @222 that feeding babies cows milk is a quick and easy way to boost infant survival rates. I really don't think he came across as "...talking to a room of six year olds...".
Mordicai Knode
236. mordicai
235. JohnnyMac

That is okay, I am mostly referring to a text on the subject-- again, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mother Nature which I highly recommend-- which goes far more in-depth on the topic of infant mortality. & we're getting off topic, but then, I'm not really surprised; the thread hasn't really being about the subject of the post in a while, but rather a lot of waggling distractions from the core point that the basic assumptions of many fantastic tropes have a lot more to do with current cultural bias than they do with historical sexism. Which, actually, I'm not trying to deride-- comment threads going off topic is fine & good-- but the tone & tenor of the conversation does seem to be a wobbly subject. Which isn't something I mean to aim at S. M. Stirling; we're locked horns a few comment threads, but I think his thoughts are in good faith, here.
fizzel
237. Sean the Bookonaut
@233. Aeryl,

The two scenes that put me off were Theon's treatment of the Ship wife/sea wife? (gratutious misogyny) and Salador sans portrayal as "scary black man outrageously intent on raping blond white queen" would be nice that if they are going to cast more people of colour that they wouldn't give them such crap roles to play or get them to play up tropes that don't exist in th text.
Chris Nelly
238. Aeryl
I agree with you on the one scene we've gotten with Salador. Theon's, yes and no. I think the show was trying to show us how Theon viewed women at the same time he spouted his worldview now that he was out from under the Starks, and because its HBO you get that with boobs and Alphie Allen peen. And she wasn't a salt wife, she was the captain's daughter and wanted to be a salt wife, which in that culture is pretty much agreeing to be a biker's old lady. She has more sexual agency in that scene than the prostitutes, as she was obviously VERY into Theon, though he still took advantage. That scene isn't take right out of the book, but I think it follows from what we know of Theon as a character.
Eliza-Rose Lartey
239. lerenardvert
I have always put it down to people not knowing how to fully characterise female leads. Whether it be that the story isn't geared towards female readers or they're just simply lazy.

Having said that, stereotypically throughout history, it's been one hell of a patriarchal ride (on the surface anyway.) Due to the adoption of this mindframe, when translating females into fiction, it is easier to write what is ingrained and what you have been told as opposed to what you can 'make-up' about a character.

It is actually quite simple, right?... Why write about a gender you have to spend time researching about, when you could create a multi-million dollar franchise, with a gender that you are most comfortable with?

Comics for example, the lead's gender will most likely be the writer's own as it's easier to put your own gender in certain situations. Also the last time I checked (no stats to back me up here) but let's face the facts guys: THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH FEMALE GRAPHIC NOVELISTS OUT THERE!

That's why, Ladies (and the Gentlemen who actually understand Tansy's POV), we need to buckle up and start writing our own leads because the problem isn't going to change unless we change it ourselves.
fizzel
240. JohnnyMac
mordicai @236, "...the core point that the basic assumptions of many fantastic tropes have a lot more to do with current cultural bias than they do with historical sexism."

Just so. It has long been one of my pet peeves that all too often in fantasy/science fiction/historicals the characters are merely contemporary Westeners in costume (whether chain mail, space suits or togas).
fizzel
241. S.M. Stirling
231. Sean the BookonautSATURDAY DECEMBER 15, 2012 02:44AM EST

To return to Dr Robert's points. What I got from the post was the "But history was/is sexist" is a catch cry that can cover poor representation of women in what is essentially a modern form of storytelling (ie the novel.), aimed at entertaining modern audiences.

-- refuted points.

As has been exhaustively documented above, the basic claim that women were somehow "absent" or largely absent or largely absent from active roles in fantasy simply ain't so.

Even for fantasy written generations ago, like Howard or Tolkien.

If writers, fans and readers react strongly to these suggestions in the negative I think that's an interesting and revealing response.

-- treating someone's argument as an opportunity to psychoanalyze them (rather than actually responding to their points) is, to put it mildly, always dubious.

Usually it's a rhetorically dishonest power-grab, operating (just for starters) from the assumptions that either the people in question are being dishonest about their motives, or even worse, that you understand their motives better than they do.

And you will now condescend to enlighten them, and everyone else, on what their words really mean and what (Bad People) they therefore really are.
fizzel
242. S.M. Stirling
232. JohnnyMacSATURDAY DECEMBER 15, 2012 02:47AM EST

Gillian Bradshaw makes good use of this truth in her historical novel "The Beacon at Alexandria".

-- yup, Bradshaw is a very fine historical novelist.

To anyone looking for historical/fantasy fiction with vivid, strong and credible female characters, I would strongly recommend Gillian Bradshaw's work.

-- heartily seconded. I've learned a good deal from her.

Another author people might be interested in is Patricia Finney. She started out strong (THE CROW GODDESS and A SHADOW OF GULLS, set in pre-Christian Ireland, dealing with the Ulster Cycle) and got even better.

Her novels featuring Queen Elizabeth (the first) are superb.
fizzel
243. S.M. Stirling
234. kimikimiSATURDAY DECEMBER 15, 2012 11:31AM EST

Did you honestly just try to teach a forum full of women the importance and value of breast milk?

-- no, I was informing someone (a guy, from the name) who thought that feeding babies unsterilized raw cow's milk was going to really reduce infant mortality.

Someone had to do it, and nobody else seemed to be stepping up at the time.

Feel free... 8-).

You do realize that some of the people you argue against

-- the only person I seem to be arguing "against" on that subject is named Mordicai.
fizzel
244. S.M. Stirling
240. JohnnyMacSUNDAY DECEMBER 16, 2012 04:31PM ESTmordicai @236,

Just so. It has long been one of my pet peeves that all too often in fantasy/science fiction/historicals the characters are merely contemporary Westeners in costume (whether chain mail, space suits or togas

-- very true, but this does not mean what (I am assuming from context, possibly inaccurately) you think it means.

Sexism is what we -share- with the past, albeit in different flavors(*).

Gender egalitarianism in thought or action, to the extent we have it, is what -differentiates us- from the past.

Really, it's a matter of how much you're willing to climb outside your own mental box when reading fiction; how well you can handle values dissonance in characters you're identifying with, without going into a compulsive Ritual Abhorrence Dance.

(*) one of the main ones being that your pre-Enlightenment sexist jerk is going to be utterly unselfconscious about it, never having met any other point of view.
fizzel
245. S.M. Stirling
Among my other pet peeves; protagonists participating in the First Crusade who suddenly realize the wonders of multiculturalism and religious tolerance; first-century Romans who equally suddenly realize how intrinsically awful slavery is; medieval warlords who start spouting the Declaration of Independence (Kevin Costner, I'm looking at -you-)...

It's a valuable mental exercise to get into the head of someone to whom the really, desperately important political questions are good lordship and dynastic legitimacy, or to whom blood vengenance is a moral obligation, and so on and so forth.
fizzel
246. S.M. Stirling
For an example of how a really historically well-informed author can handle this stuff, try Harry Turtledove's (writing as H.N. Turtletaub) "Hellenic Traders" series, starting off with THE WINE-DARK SEA.

The protagonists, the cousins Menedemos and Sostratos, are thoughtful, intelligent, reasonably kindly guys, among their other virtues.

But they're thoughtful (especially Sostratos, who's a philosopher), intelligent, reasonably kindly Hellenistic Greeks, not 21st-century Americans in chitons.

It never occurrs to them to doubt that Greek ways are best and that everyone else should adopt them; they accept slavery and its implications (including sexual exploitation of male and female slaves) as simply part of life; it's axiomatic that women should be secluded and obedient to their fathers and then husbands; and that the best way to deal with pirates is to to crucify the lot of them.

Sestratos often reflects that it sucks bigtime to be a slave (something that might happen to him, after all); he even occasionally thinks how lousy a fate it is to be a woman (particularly when talking with the sister he adores, who is often bored out of her skull), and that's about it.

He's unusually, philosophically, enlightened in that he thinks a thoroughly Hellenized barbarian is just as good as a Greek. Or almost.
Gerd K
247. Kah-thurak
@S.M. Stirling
I mentioned Farmers Riverworld series because I believe it is actually the perfect example for what is discussed here. You point out that there are feministic characters in there and mention the dirigible pilot as an example - and in fact she is the only example of a female character in that series that is not introduced as a rather irrelevant love interest of one of the protagonists. And she is an "invented" character and no "historic" one. In a series like Riverworld it would have seemed quite natural if there had been a Cleopatra, a queen Isabel II or a Boudicca but there are none of these.

And while not all of the "older" Fantasy/Science Fiction works are like that, a lot are, and I guess this is where articles like this come from. In modern works I have yet to find this though. Which is why I asked for examples, but it seems nobody has any...
fizzel
248. Kimikimi
@243. S.M. Stirling
Okay you are right, I think I rage jumped on that post a little too fast and read something that wasn't there. I really do beg your pardon. I read a lot of these gendered discussions and I must say this is the politest and most reasonable I've come across and I should remember that when responding in the future.
Alan Brown
249. AlanBrown
One thing I like about this website is there are some good, thoughtful discussions of some pretty touchy subjects, something you don't get everywhere on the internet!
Nancy C. Mittens
250. redrose
I would just like to point out that mordecai said that feeding small babies cows milk would boost infant mortality, not reduce it. Which as S.M. Stirling expounded at length, while assuming mordecai meant reduce, is true.
fizzel
251. orangedan
This article is fantastic. I just have small sidepoint that bugged me. Science going wrong is not necessarily the basis for most of the interesting science fiction. In fact, I would say that is the basis for a lot of boring science fiction. Most good SF (it goes without saying, in my opinion) is about how humans change in the face of technology, good or ill. For instance, read books in the Culture series by Ian M Banks and you will learn of a civilization where tech is great and helps everyone, but it's humans who are still having problems growing up socially.

Anyways, that's neither here nor there.
I don't the gender politics about getting things published (it's still a man's world out there), but I think it would be great if more women took up the pen and tried to write female characters as they want. The more society is exposed to the idea, the more normal it will become. I hope.
fizzel
252. Percival Constantine
As a man, I prefer my leads to be male. Since I have no experience being a women, I can better appreciate and relate to a well written male character, than an equally well written female one.
I would rather read fantasy about characters that I can relate to/identify with than ones I cannot, and therefore as a male, would rather read stories with male leads.
I find this line of thinking to be absolutely ridiculous. If you were given two different stories with two different characters—one about a man in a Tolkien-esque fantasy world and one about a woman in the modern-day, why do you feel you'd relate more to the male character who is about as far removed from your worldview as possible? Just because he happens to share the same baby-making equipment as you makes him more relatable, even though he's from a completely different world?

If you find female characters unrelatable simply because you're male, then I'd say the problem lies in your own subconscious prejudices as opposed to the sex of the characters.
fizzel
253. Dr. Jeanne Reames, UNO
I liked this, as I think it points out a number of issues dealing with women in history, and women in historical fantasy/fiction. It takes a certain amount of "thinking around corners" to avoid falling into the trap of our source's views ... e.g., a good dollop of historiographic critique.

Elizabeth D. Carney has a very fine opening chapter on women in history and the pitfalls of our sources in WOMEN AND MONARCHY IN MACEDONIA (2000, UofOK Press). I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in historigraphic matters, and finding (authentic) women in the actual remaining historical record ... using a society where women were routinely repressed (ancient Greece ... even if the Macedonians were culturally somewhat different, our sources *about* the Macedonians are largely Greek, or later Roman). Greeks routinely misunderstood the roles of women in other societies, whether Macedonian or Persian. Maria Brosius has a masterful work on Achaemenid women in WOMEN IN ANCIENT PERSIA, 559-331 BC, which uses our few remaining Persian sources like the Persepolis Tablets, to show just how confused and "through a Greek lens" even Asian Greek writers like Herodotus of Halicarnasus understood women's roles in other cultures.

In any case, I think some careful choices can be made by writers, and as you alude to, women had a fairly high profile in politics, even when they supposedly didn't. (Aspasia, anyone? Livia? Olympias?) This is routinely mistaken (often because our sources are mistaken) and so we get weird stuff like Olympias resenting Philip II's other wives as a result of sexual jealousy. Such a view shows a bit too much Plutarch and not enough understanding of the polygamous Macedonian court. Yet it shows up even now in otherwise rather good historical fiction (Mary Renault), or widely distributed questionable historical fiction (Oliver Stone's "Alexander"). Olympias didn't give a damn who Philip slept with as long as HER son reached the throne. ;>

Likewise, we see little recognition of "rule by clan," where royal women HAD official roles, often religious or administrative. E.g., much to the Greeks' dismay, the chief Achaemenid queen could not only meet with men, have male clients, own her own land (and administer it), and throw her own parties with political dignitaries ... she was *expected* to. To Persians, that wasn't *meddling*. But to Greeks, it was a sign of the weak, "womanish" Persian Achaemenid dynasty, and proof of why the Persians where inherently inferior. ;>

And that, too, is the trick of reading women in history, as you allude to -- it's seeing things from a different view. And avoiding modern assumptions. :-)

Cheers!
fizzel
255. GinaB
I loved, loved this article. I'm going to go ahead and suggest you might really, really be into fantasy filmmaker Jessica Mae Stover and most importantly ARTEMIS ETERNAL if you don't already know about it (you probably do). She's tenacious on this subject, taking it into her news appearances and so on in addition to in her actual work. You also might like her essay 'Midnight in Hollywood'.

If you write on Tor on the subject again I would love to see you write about her work. I think I'd kill for you to write up an interview with her. That would just be huge. I would love to see women scifi/fantasy writers and creators banding together like this more often. You're both awesome for articulating what we are all so frustrated by! Thank you for this write up
fizzel
258. James Davis Nicoll
Congratulations on your Ditmar wins!

http://www.cheryl-morgan.com/?p=16725
fizzel
259. Mike Major
I like the commentary about women simply not being written about. It's so true. Even really powerful women like Theodora and Hatshepsut were often given short shrift in history.

Women in Fantasy cultures should be defined by the cultures and nature of the fantasy. In a world with powerful magic, for example, women are likely to have a stronger place than in history unless that magic is somehow tied only to men (which would be pretty misogynist really).

Much of the realities of women's place in history come about through biology. Men are more expendable and better at muscle combat. They take a lot of credit while women - all too often behind the scenes and uncredited in history - keep things running.

Revisionism aside, in entirely unrestrained physical combat, particularly mass combat, men have a decided advantage being stronger, heavier, having faster adrenal responses etc. Can women be skilled with a sword? Absolutely - probably by relying on speed and smaller size for advantage. However in line combat those are greatly eroded by the simple weight and mass of larger people being willing to run smaller people over.

As such, it's not impossible for a female warrior society to exist, but a good writer should have those warriors fight to their advantage if they want to keep their stories believable. Women are perfectly capable fighters when fighting where they can use their advantages - so a successful society of women warriors won't engage in shield wall battles etc. They might win some of those but they would be at a disadvantage. They would seek to engage in tight terrain and broken ground where they can use their speed, smaller size and skill to advantage.

Magic, of course, is an equalizer like firearms. Assuming it's gender neutral, one can entirely see less powerful women breaking into magic and using it to achieve equality within a male dominated society. A firebolt doesn't care how mighty your thews are - you still get turned into charred bits of teeth and bone.

Women have always, in history, been way more important than the history books given them credit for. In a fantasy world - give them full credit. Women have always been smart and if there are advantages for them to use to achieve equality they most certainly will do so.
fizzel
260. Gibbs
So, this is way down at the bottom, but Brian Friel has a truly great play about the process of writing history (appropriately titled "Making History") that is totally man-centric, as many of the movers and shakers of Irish politics at the time were men, but incorporates women as vital parts of the story. It isn't perfect by any means, but it does a pretty decent job of showing how involved women were/are in history, even if they aren't the marquee names (and how lazy it is when people don't include women in fantasy).
fizzel
262. Jess Fardaday
Well said.

I found Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth covered the topics of medieval women's experiences (including running businesses, menial labor, behind-the-scenes political plotting, religious leadership, etc.) in a thorough and completely accessible way. Although it's pure history, rather than fantasy, fantasy writers who base their worlds on medieval times could learn a lot from the way Follett shows historically accurate women and men making their way through a difficult life.

Much preferable to the excrable Game of Thrones, IMO.
fizzel
263. larainey
Thank you and you are now my new girl crush. *wink wink*
fizzel
264. uscareme
@qbe_64
"The majority of sci-fi/fantasy readers are men" ... "based on economics"

Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Hahahahahaha. ROFL ROFL ROFL.

Oh, wait. You weren't joking?

Wow. I feel really sad now.
fizzel
266. Jess Mahler
Someone above in the threads mentioned this article:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/dec/11/scott-lynch-gentleman-bastards-republic-thieves
Which contains Scott Lynch's reply to a critic saying his female pirate (leader?) was unrealistic and ahistorical.

S.M. Stirling raised the point that it is hard to name a modern fantasy novel that actually ignores female characters or treats them as without any power or influence in their worlds. I'm not interested in arguing this point, largely because I don't read that sub-genre so don't have the knowledge.

But whether or not authors are not including active female characters and washing it away with 'but it's historically accurate;' there are clearly people criticizing the inclusion of said female characters for being historically inaccurate (see link above).

And what I find most interesting is not the criticism (female pirate's aren't historically accurate, how dare you have have something inaccurate in a fantasy novel, waaaa!!), but Lynch's response to it (Yes, it's wish fulfillment, get over it.) Clearly, neither the critic, nor Lynch nor the article's author have heard of Anne Bonny, Mary Read or Ching Shih or the many other historically attested female pirates and pirate leaders.

So while authors may or may not be exusing their lack of female characters with influence and agency as 'it's inaccurate!' there is clearly an assumption that such female characters ARE historically inaccurate.

Some years ago I read Steve White's Demon's Gate, with its intro saying "Don't jump all over me for having slavery and sexism in this world, it'd be unrealistic not too." And shuddered, dreading what I would find. When I finished I what was a damn good read, I had not idea why he thought people would attack him for his female characters. Sure, his women had to fit within cultural roles, but with in those roles they were capable of having a great deal of influence. I actually found the plot--women try to take power and nearly destroy everything and men (with the one woman who sees how wrong they were and repents) need to fix what they broke--a lot more sexist than his portrayal of the women in question. So maybe the question of sexism in fantasy is even more complicated than the insanely long discussion here suggests.
fizzel
267. Noelle Campbell
If you've found "historically authentic sexism," I suspect it's because you are looking for it, have found it, and are seething in it. I am just looking for a good story. I've run into lots of women who won't read fantasy unless it has a 'strong heroine.' What a shame. What a buttload of classical fantasy is missed. What insight into men are we never bothering to learn--Wait a minute! Isn't this the same thing we whine men do to us? I gues it's not surprising that everything comes full circle.

Don't go blaming a successful author for writing something you think is sexist. Just read something else. Or better yet, write something better.
fizzel
268. Strejda
"Don't go blaming a successful author for writing something you think is sexist."

Why?

"Just read something else."

If there was enough of "something else" we wouldn't be talking about it in the first place.

"Or better yet, write something better."

So, if I go to a restaurant and food there is awful, I should just open my own restaurant?

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