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7 posts from March 2011

March 23, 2011

Why You Still Need to be a Feminist

Here they are, in black and white (or red and blue, actually): the breakdown of male/female representation in the most elite publications in the country in 2010 from Vida. Here's the speculative fiction version from Strange Horizons, along with links to discussion of the above.

Spoiler alert: men review more books and get more books reviewed than women -- and by a factor of two to three, depending on the publication.

But then, there's a good reason why; more men are being published:

We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. ... Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.

I speculated that independents ... would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. ... Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? ... Dalkey Archive Press ... it would be nice if more than 10 percent of [their books] were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women.)

... these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.

So now you know.

Of course, this plays out across all elite and desirable fields:

According to a fact sheet published last year by the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2008, women constituted 32.4 percent of all lawyers and 32.2 percent of physicians and surgeons. (We’re 68.8 percent of psychologists, 92 percent of nurses, and 50.4 percent of technical writers, the only type of writer included in the report.)

We've evened out in law school and med school ... but then we outnumber men in MFA creative writing programs, and look at the publication and review numbers. So there are actually several moments of concern.

And, of course, Jessa Crispin at Bookslut uncovers further isshoes:

After talking with editor after editor, a pattern started to emerge. "We don't get enough submissions by women." At each publication I talked to, women were submitting an average of 35% of manuscripts, poems, articles, and pitches.

Which, of course, leads us to (part of the reason) why:

There's something about the culture at some of these places listed at Vida that make me think I would never in a million years be accepted there, and after taking a sampling of some female writer friends, I'm not the only one. Take the Atlantic, for example. Their rates of publishing women were not as devastatingly horrible as, say, The New York Review of Books. (What the fuck, NYRB?) But the women they are perhaps best known for publishing are Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about how abortion is bad, sex is bad, staying at home with the kids is awesome, doing her husband's laundry gives her purpose. Also Sandra Tsing Loh, who writes about her infidelity, the breakup of her marriage, being a bad mother. There is absolutely nothing about The Atlantic that screams out to me: We are totally respectful of women and their various viewpoints, and we'd be interested in publishing the work of a single, globetrotting, pro-choice feminist who does not under any circumstance want to write about her relationships, her femininity, or her sex life.

Hm. That's starting to sound strangely familiar.

So here we are again, folks. And, as usual, my response to all of this is to want people to do something about it. Only this time, instead of giving advice to others, I'm doing something myself.

If women aren't submitting at all in the proportions in which they are actually writing (and I've made that contention myself before) then let's get women submitting their work. I'm working on a way and will have more to say about that later. But here's a beginning.

March 21, 2011

Christine's painting below is so beautiful, I've been holding off on posting anything else because it looks so great on this page I don't want it to move down. Sigh. But I have a lot of reading to update (coming up soon.)

March 13, 2011

The Apocalypse Artist on Stretcher

ShieldsSeeSaw

Hello everyone! A collaboration I worked on has just been posted on Stretcher, the local San Francisco arts webzine.

The feature is called See|Saw, and features works by artists and writers responding to each other. I was supposed to look at artist Christine Shields' work and respond to it, but she and I decided to get a little more complicated than that. She showed me a couple of her paintings, then I wrote a story responding to them. Then she read an early draft of my story and made a painting responding to that. (That's, of course, the painting you see above.)

Here's the post.

It was a really fun project and I look forward to seeing future See|Saw projects!

March 12, 2011

Reading Update: Bestiality and Violence

Patricia Briggs Bone Crossed
Patricia Briggs Silver Borne
Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club
Malinda Lo Huntress
Robin McKinley Beauty and the Beast
Seanan McGuire Late Eclipses
Patricia Briggs River Marked

Not gonna comment much here, except to say that Fight Club, which I finally read, is the male version of the woman-centered dark urban fantasies I've been bingeing on. Think about it. I might have more to say about the genre later.

McKinley's Beauty and the Beast was very readable, but not much of a departure, after all the Beauty and the Beast stuff that's happened since. Maybe this is the book that started it, who knows.

Huntress was fun, and it's always great to visit Lo's fantasy world in which same-sex relationships are a simple fact of life. But I was expecting more of an Asian fantasy world, and the world was still dominated by western fairy myths and monsters and magic. So I was disappointed there. But still good, solid YA fantasy, and beautifully written to boot.

March 10, 2011

Reading Update: Trigger Happy

Laurie Halse Anderson Speak

What a great book (despite the ending, which wrapped up a little too neatly)! A girl starts high school an outcast because of something she did over the summer: dropped by all of her friends, and incapable of speaking up for herself. It becomes clear [SPOILER], long before she addresses it, that she was raped at a party and feels disempowered and silenced as a result. Anderson does a fantastic job of layering in the symbolic and the subtle, exploring how time and growth can bring a person's power and voice back, and all the various ways in which teenage girls are silenced. I was particularly struck by how she shows girls being punished for speaking up: by their parents, teachers, classmates, and even their friends.

The protag starts out looking passive and victimized, but by the end of the book, you realize that perhaps she's the strongest character of all of these. Her instinct to be silent may be less the instinct of the eternal victim than that of the wounded predator who hides in her den to lick her wounds. When she comes roaring out at the end, it's not at all unexpected or inconsistent.

Also, I finally understand about trigger warnings. Speak was totally triggering me at the beginning, before Anderson started delving into the reasons behind the protag's ostracism. The bullying and ostracism itself was so upsetting to me that I was reading a page or so at a time and then pacing around my house (or the BART station, or wherever) yelling silently in my head at various characters in the book and memories in my head. Angry angry and frustrated. I finally realized I was doing it and managed to settle down and focus on the book -- but only by distancing myself from it somewhat.

My only quibble: the book is written in first person. It kind of (as in, very much) detracts from the power of the protag's silence when she is speaking to us throughout the book. If it had been in third person, particularly if it was sometimes close third and sometimes objective third, the times the protag spoke would have been infinitely more powerful, without the author losing the ability to get inside her head.

Otherwise, strongly recommended for teen girls and boys.

March 09, 2011

Oh My God

Gwenda has a post pointing to Ursula Le Guin talking about cursing.

Le Guin is talking essentially about the devaluation of language that's happened because everybody says and writes "shit" and "fuck" a lot.

But I just wanna say that I wish people would take the "Lord's" name in vain the way god intended. I'm really tired of hearing "Oh my gosh," as if that's somehow better than "Oh my god." "Gosh" exists for one reason only, to soften the use of the word "god" as a swear word. Since it's unchristian to swear using the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god, somehow it's more christian to swear using soundalike stand-ins for the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god (and states of lack of salvation,) instead of swearing using the names of flowers or household implements or pets, or just, I dunno, not swearing at all.

If you're gonna swear, swear, goshdarnit. Geez. Golly. Dang.

March 05, 2011

Reading Update: 40 Love Plus Demons

Rosemary and Rue Seanan McGuire
A Local Habitation Seanan McGuire
An Artificial Night Seanan McGuire
Open Andre Agassi
Mark of the Demon Diana Rowland
Blood of the Demon Diana Rowland
Secrets of the Demon Diana Rowland
Moon Called Patricia Briggs
Blood Bound Patricia Briggs
Iron Kissed Patricia Briggs

Yeah, yeah, okay, I've been bingeing. But I've never really read adult urban dark fantasy before, and it's pretty awesome. Better than the YA version so far.

I started with Seanan McGuire, at Jackie's recommendation, and loved it (just waiting for the next book to come out.) Then moved on from there via Amazon AI (that thing is very useful) to Diana Rowland. Then Amazon pointed me to another author, whose Amazon reviews complained that she was the poor woman's Patricia Briggs, so I went there. Not a lemon in the lot.

All of these are feminist-ish/dark fantasy/mysteries with just a touch of romance thrown in. (A lot of genre has requisite sex, but the development of romantic relationships is woven into the plot well and importantly enough to make these romances-ish.)

The Seanan McGuire series centers around October Daye, a "changeling" (misnomer: the series uses this to refer to mixed-blood fairies/humans) detective who returns to human form, having spent 14 years as a koi fish in the Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden's pond after running afoul of an evil fae. She figures out fantastical mysteries while trying to choose between two suitors: her old courtier lover and the rough and tumble King of the Cats. (Because I'm psychic -- or just brilliant, I suspect she'll end up with the cat.)

Diana Rowland's series' detective is Kara Gillian, a Louisiana cop-cum-demon-summoner, who has some inborn magic that allows her to see when other magic is being used. She also solves mysteries, of course, and is being courted by two men. One is a demon lord who wants a relationship with her because it's useful, but they also have rawkin' sex and she's starting to fall for him. The other one is an FBI agent with supernatural abilities who's human ... or is he?

The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs follows a half-Native American mechanic who is possibly the last of the "Walkers" (not skinwalkers), an indigenous American supernatural who can turn into a coyote at will, but isn't a were-anything. (The weres came from Europe.) She was raised by werewolves, though. She's somewhat immune to European magic (sorry, I refuse to use the stupid word "magics") and can therefore solve mysteries the vampires, werewolves, and fae can't. She's, not surprisingly, also being courted by two men, both werewolves. One is a very old one who tried to get her to be his mate (she's useful because she could potentially give birth to werewolf babies and nobody else can) when she was a teenager. The other is the local Alpha, in charge of the local pack, and able to force others to obey him.

These all play off of a particular narrative. All of these protagonists are orphans or have been abandoned by their parents in various ways. All were raised by supernatural beings or those in touch with them. All have one foot in each world -- the human and the supernatural, and end up spending a lot of time managing the supernaturals and deceiving the humans. All have some human fighting skill, as well as a unique supernatural ability which, though it doesn't make them stronger than the supernaturals around them, does make them uniquely able to solve mysteries. All three are surrounded by supernaturals, and courted by dominant supernatural men who wish to dominate them, and at the same time are attracted to their independence. And all are classic heroes: people whose personalities compel them to pursue justice and right and protect the innocent without concern for their own safety.

But in these narratives, the hero's journey is the short arc: the one that starts, climaxes, and is complete in the course of a single book. It's the romance that forms the longer, multiple-book story. But the longer arc isn't just romance; all of that is bound together with a lifelong search for self, search to understand the hero's own power and position in the world, and to understand her suitors' power and position in the world.

I have a lot more to say about this, but I'm still reading, so I'm going to put it off. :P

Also read Andre Agassi's autobio Open which was really well done (kudos to his ghost writer!) I still don't understand athletes or competitive people, but the book gave me a little insight into that kind of personality. I'm pretty sure those will come out in my writing later on. I'm now fascinated, and want to read more about how athletes and driven, competitive people think.

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