owlmoose: (CJ)
Happy International Women's Day!

I hope that today's events lead both to a continuing groundswell of the progressive actions that have been going on for years but came into focus for many more with the Women's March in January, and to a greater recognition of International Women's Day in the United States. Interesting reading: this Slate article on the history of International Women's Day, which discusses its roots as a day of strikes and pro-worker action through a defanged and commercialized holiday somewhat akin to Mother's Day. (Also an excuse for self-styled wags and MRAs to complain that there's no International Men's Day. Which: 1. shut up; 2. November 19th, in case you actually care; 3. It's during White History Month and Straight Pride Week, duh.)

Although I'm wearing red today, and ate breakfast at home instead of going out as I often do on workdays, I haven't varied my routine much otherwise. I contemplated not working, but since I'm on a major deadline and had a couple of meetings, I decided it would inconvenience the wrong people without sending any useful messages. I felt a little bad about it, but I also firmly believe that every person needs to decide this sort of thing for themselves. I have heard and sympathize with some of the criticisms that not every woman is in a position where they can afford to take a day off work and/or care-taking; I think that's legit, but I've also seen too many women -- and by this I mean the well-off white women who could most likely take the risk -- use that criticism as an excuse not to participate. In the end, if trusting women is important -- and I believe that it is -- then we need to trust women to evaluate their own lives and know what actions are appropriate for them. We can critique the larger meaning of an action without getting too bogged down in the choices of individual women. I'll be interested to see if any statistics come out about the aggregate effect of Day Without a Woman, and if the strike tradition continues.

(Post title is from a Peter Gabriel song, "Shaking the Tree".)
owlmoose: (think)
I went to the Women's March in San Francisco today. Because there was an anti-abortion protest earlier in the day (organized months earlier -- they do a march here on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade every year), city officials asked the organizers to make their event later, so the rally started at 3pm. It was a little weird, being at home and watching all the pictures and reports coming in on social media when my march was still hours away.

I ended up only walking about half the march route, for two reasons: rain, and T came along with me despite crowds not being at all his scene, and I didn't want to push him into overdoing it. Still, even if I didn't participate as fully as I could, I'm so glad I had the chance to be part of this amazing and historic event.

Some pictures I took are posted on my Tumblr, and I linked to a few others.

I haven't been to many protest marches, but I always leave them feeling supported and invigorated. Now to turn those feelings into action, tomorrow and every day that follows.
owlmoose: (stonehenge)
You've probably noticed that I've written very little about this presidential primary season -- my last and so far only post on the subject was in November. That doesn't mean I don't have thoughts, of course. I've shared plenty on Twitter (by far my most active social media presence these days), and sometimes Tumblr posts as well, and it's all but taken over my Facebook feed (although I took a break from posting election-related content myself from about March through Clinton mathematically clinching the nomination). But my journal hasn't really seemed like the venue to share them. Until now.

Because there's no way I'm letting a milestone like this go by without marking it down for posterity. On Thursday night, July 28th, 2016, I had friends over to watch Hillary Clinton become the first woman to accept the presidential nomination of a major political party, giving her a very real shot to become the first female President of the United States of America. We cheered and we cried and we broke out a bottle of champagne. As I watched her speak, I thought about the generations of women who worked and fought and died for this moment. I watched women and men basking in the glory of a victory they may have never expected to see. I looked at the faces of girls in the audience, rapt with attention and brimming with possibility. I took it all in, and I relished it. Sure, it's not exactly a surprise -- this has been the anticipated outcome of the 2016 Democratic primary since at least 2008 -- and yet there's a part of me that couldn't believe it was happening, that still can't quite believe it's real.

I've always hoped to see a woman become president in my lifetime, but for many years I assumed that the first female president would be a Republican. My reasoning? It seemed more likely to me that a moderate Republican woman (think Elizabeth Dole, or Christine Todd Whitman) could attract support from moderate Democratic women than the other way around, and that such support would be necessary to offset the people who simply couldn't vote for any woman as president. Also, any viable female presidential candidate would need to project a tough image: in particular, be a strong supporter of the military. And until not so long ago, those were policy positions associated with the Republican Party. So I thought it made sense that a centrist Republican would be more likely to break through this particular glass ceiling.

And the truth is, I would have raised a glass to that theoretical Republican, too. Chances are I wouldn't have voted for her, but I still would've cheered her accomplishment. The fact of a woman, any woman, being poised to take the highest office in the land is a blow against sexism. A small one, to be sure, if the woman in question campaigned on a regressive platform. But a blow nonetheless. And whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, her policies, and the trajectory of her political career*, you cannot argue that she hasn't made promoting equal rights for women and girls a priority throughout her life.

This isn't the end of the battle, of course. Electing a female president wouldn't end sexism any more than Barack Obama's election ended racism. We need more women and people of color -- especially women of color -- at all levels of government, from local positions to the White House and beyond, before we can truly say that we've won anything. (I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her vision of an all-female Supreme Court.) But just as Obama's candidacy was an important step along that path, so is Clinton's, and I hope we can hold this progress going forward.

*Which is not something I intend to argue about here. I'm happy to have substantive debate about Clinton as a politician and a candidate on another day, but that's not the point of this post. This is a moment to celebrate, for me and millions of others, and I intend to make the most of it.
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
Earlier this year, I picked up the Kate Elliott novel Spirit Gate. I read about the first quarter, then set it aside -- I don't remember why exactly, probably for a book that had just been released -- and haven't yet gotten around to picking it back up again. It's not a bad book, by any means, and I have every intention of getting back to it eventually. But I haven't yet felt the need to make it a priority.

Spirit Gate is the first book in the Crossroads trilogy, which furnishes the backstory for Black Wolves and the rest of the new trilogy to follow. But that's not my main reason for bringing it up here. The first part of Spirit Gate opens with an extended prologue about a middle-aged woman named Marit. Marit is a reeve, which means that she rides a giant eagle, to whom she is bonded. They fly around a country known as The Hundred, dispensing justice and working with other reeves to keep the peace. I fell in love with Marit immediately -- she's fierce, independent, and loyal, and I was thrilled to see an older woman of action in a position of authority. I would have happily read an entire book just about Marit, her eagle, and her much-younger male lover.

And then, less than a hundred pages in, she exits the story, never to be seen again.

I found this development disappointing, and although I eventually connected with other characters, it was never quite the same, and I'm sure my feelings about losing Marit contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for returning to the book after I put it down. And I still often wish that I could have read Marit's story.

Black Wolves is not Marit's story, but it comes closer than almost anything else I've ever read. And for that alone, I would have adored this book, but there is of course much more to like. The story revolves around five main characters, one of whom is Dannarah, a fifty-nine year old woman who is fierce, independent, and ambitious. She's also a reeve marshall, as well as sister to the late king -- in other words, a figure of power and authority, someone who both demands and earns respect. Not a role we often see an older woman filling, especially not in epic fantasy.

Another viewpoint character, Captain Kellas, is also older, a retired soldier in his seventies, pulled back into the king's service by Dannarah's ambition and his own sense of responsibility, to his country and to the royal family he was once sworn to protect. He and Dannarah share a long history, marred by grief and betrayal, and their relationship resonates in ways that just wouldn't work with younger characters.

There are three other main characters, two women and one man, all in their early 20s, and those stories are also compelling in their own ways. But the inclusion of the two older characters, and their very different perspectives on a world that has changed a great deal since their youth, add a balance to the book that's missing from a lot of epic fantasy.

A few months ago, a friend on Facebook was lamenting the lack of characters like her in fantasy novels, saying that she "want[ed] to read about a forty-something single mom who goes on an epic quest." I thought about this, and asked around; a few titles came up (Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold were mentioned the most often, and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin came out not long after that), but not nearly as many as should have.* I am very happy to be able to add Black Wolves to this short but illustrious list, and I hope this book opens the floodgates to bring us dozens more.

*Further additions to the list are always welcome!
owlmoose: (ffx2 - yuna)
Some of you may remember the long meta post about Final Fantasy X-2 and some of the criticisms commonly made of it that I wrote a few years ago. [community profile] ladybusiness asked me to update and repost it, and it's now up!

In Defense of X-2: 2014
owlmoose: (ffx2 - paine smile)
Because why not write ladies? But let's go a little deeper than that.

Background: Over on Tumblr today, [tumblr.com profile] saathi1013 pointed out how often we have conversations about why people in fandom write m/m slash, or why they don't focus on female characters. So she flipped the question around and asked us to "celebrate presence instead of justifying absence", suggesting that we talk about why we choose to write and read about female characters. And I am happy to rise to this challenge.

The easy answer is that I am primarily a het writer, and it's pretty hard to write het without writing female characters. That's still a little too facile, though, and I write enough gen that it doesn't tell the whole story anyway. What it comes down to, I think, is that I write stories I want to read. And I want to read stories about women, and their lives, and their relationships (with friends, with family, with lovers, with the women and men in their lives). So I prefer put female characters in the spotlight wherever I can, to give them the recognition I think they deserve.

Of course, there are male characters I love, and whom I will always number among my very favorites. (After all, you also can't really write het without writing about men!) But in whatever I read, watch, or play, I'm always looking for the women. I'm more likely to identify with female characters, and I'm more likely to be interested in where their stories are going. It's difficult for me to enjoy media with no female characters at all, and nothing gets me to disengage from a story or backbutton out of a fic more quickly than cutting the women out of the narrative. Kill off the only woman? Pair up two men in a way that erases or disrespects a canon female love interest? I'm probably done, and I'm most likely not coming back.

I want my stories to reflect the world I see around me in some way. And that's a world that contains women. I write female characters because I can't imagine not writing female characters, and I guess that brings this post full circle: Why not write ladies? The truth is, I can't think of a single good reason.
owlmoose: (ff13 - lightning)
Here's the thing, about the recent announcements regarding Lightning Returns.

You all know that I'm a huge FFX-2 fan, so it's not like fanservice or character redesigns or playing dress-up dolls are deal-breakers for me. I might have rolled my eyes a little bit at Lightning Returns and her five million outfits, and I think it's more than fair to ask if a Final Fantasy game with a male protagonist would have ever included such an aspect, but it doesn't bother me really.

This thing with the breast enlargement bothers me. Not just the fact of it, but the way it was presented, the tee-hee-nudge-wink grossness of it, the idea that whether Lightning's breasts jiggle is the most important thing about the game, the fact that it's Lightning being sexualized in this particular way. In her original characterization, Lightning broke out of many of the female character stereotypes that have plagued Final Fantasy games in the past, so to see this change is really frustrating.

Take this news and combine it with the lack of female playable characters in FFXV (which hasn't been officially confirmed but seems highly likely) and the redesign of Stella from this to this, my faith in Squeenix is pretty much shot.

I will still probably buy and play Final Fantasy XV; I will still probably not get Lightning Returns unless I ever manage to finish FFXIII-2, so nothing has changed for me, really. But it's all very disappointing, and getting worse.
owlmoose: (book - key)
Another day, another post about representation of women authors in best-of lists. This time, it's the NPR YA List from 2012, and although women tend to receive more recognition as YA authors, there is still plenty to discuss. The bloggers over at [community profile] ladybusiness were kind enough to let me post my thoughts over there.

The NPR YA List: Playing Favorites?

If you are interested, take a look!

In other news, yesterday was my *mumbles age that ends in zero* birthday. I had a lazy day, then went out with friends for drinks and dinner, including a Flaming Mai Tai, which was free, and mighty tasty too.

FogCon is this weekend, and I'm pretty excited. Also a little nervous, because I'm on my first panel, ever, about copyright issues in fandom as they relate to both creators and fans. On reflection, and in conversation with my fellow panelists, it's probably too big a topic for an hour, but we'll see how it goes! I intend to represent as fan, librarian, and OTW member (although hm, maybe my membership has lapsed; I should check) as best I can. Wish me luck!
owlmoose: (book -- glasses)
Locus Magazine has been running a series of polls on the best speculative fiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. The lists of novels came out a few weeks ago, and since I am incapable of looking at a list of books without wondering how well women authors are represented, I downloaded the lists and crunched some numbers. I was especially curious because, unlike most polls along these lines, Locus ran the science fiction and fantasy polls separately, and I was curious to see how that would affect the results as compared to the Tor.com and NPR lists from 2011.

Some big, fat caveats before I start. Although Locus asked their readers to vote for individual books instead of whole series, some people voted for series anyway, which created some double-votes. Locus also ran the entire project via write-in and didn't do any kind of corrective or normalization work -- some books are in both the sci-fi and fantasy lists, some books are on the lists for both centuries, and some books are duplicated with author name misspellings, title variants, etc. (Locus updated the lists on their site to correct for the wrong century error, but I had already started working with the uncorrected data, and I decided it didn't make enough of a difference for me to want to start over.) Finally, I only included books ranked above zero (books that received more than one vote), both to make the dataset more manageable and because so many of them were duplicates of titles higher on the list.

Okay, all that said, how does it look?

20th Century Lists:

Science Fiction - Out of 389 titles, 65 books were by women*, or 17%. Only 8% of the books in the top 50 were by women. Out of 191 individual authors, 38 were women, or 20%. The woman with the most books on the list was Lois McMaster Bujold, with 7. 12 women had more than one book on the list, as compared to 66 men.

Fantasy - Out of 374 titles, 79 were written by women, or 24%. In the top 50, 16% of the books were by women. Out of 194 authors, 47 were women, also 24%. The woman with the most books on the list was Ursula Le Guin, with 7. Of the authors with more than one book on the list, 14 were women and 59 were men.

21st Century Lists:

Science Fiction - Out of 183 books on the list, 34 were by women, or 19%. Of the top 50, 16% of the books were by women. Out of 109 individual authors, 28 were women, or 26%. The woman with the most books on the list was Gwyneth Jones, with 4. There were only 4 women with more than one book on the list, as compared to 30 men.

Fantasy - Out of 169 books on the list, 53 were by women, or 31%. Of the top 50, 29% were by women. Out of 108 authors, 39 were women, or 36%. The woman with the most books on the list was, once again, Ursula Le Guin, with 6 (only Terry Pratchett had more). 7 women and 19 men had more than one book on the list.

Look, pretty graphs. )

I had expected, going in, that women would be better represented in fantasy than in sci-fi, and better represented on the 21st century list than the 20th century one, and both of these expectations held true. I had thought about combining the genre lists to do an overall analysis, but there was too much duplication in the data for that to make sense. A lot of books were on both lists -- "The City and the City" by China Mieville even made both top ten lists for its century -- and I decided I wasn't up for weeding them all out. I have always found separating these genres to be difficult, and it's getting harder as the genres fragment and spread. There are questions, too, about the gendering of the genres. Are women more likely to be pegged as fantasy writers and men as science fiction? Take Anne McCaffery -- the Pern books are technically science fiction, but since they're about dragons, people often put them in the fantasy category, and the vote for her books was split over the two categories. (Now I want to find all the books that are listed in both categories for their years and see if any patterns emerge.)

Naturally, I was curious about how these lists would stack up to the Tor and NPR polls. The NPR list of 100 included 15% books by women, with no women authors in the top 10 and only one in the top 20; every single Locus list did better than that, even the 20th century sci-fi list. But then, my issues with recent NPR book polls, their choices and methodology, are pretty well documented. On the other hand, in the Tor poll, 38% of the books that received at least one vote were by women, 24% of the top 50. Since I excluded books that received only one vote from my analysis, this isn't an exact comparison, and the Tor poll is 21st century only; when you compare only those two lists to the Tor data, it's not too far off -- the fantasy list is about the same, the sci-fi list somewhat lower, and maybe the difference would balance out, especially if I could find a way to include the single-vote books.

I'd need data from many more polls to be sure, but it interests me that, for all their issues, free-for-all polls like the Locus and Tor lists tend to provide better representation of women authors than curated polls such as the NPR list. I'm not sure whether that's good or bad, in the end.

I would like to have some grand pronouncement to make here about What It All Means, but at the moment, I really don't. But I do feel that it's important to get these kinds of numbers out there, to remind ourselves that lists like this come with built-in limitations and prejudices**, which will never go away if we don't examine and talk about them.

*Not including two books co-written by a man and a woman.
**Of all kinds, not just gender, of course. I don't feel qualified to run these lists through other representation metrics, but race, for one, would sure be interesting.
owlmoose: (B5 - Ivanova)
So Tumblr is, once again, alight with discussion of slash versus femslash versus het, and all the various reasons why so many women chose to write slash, thereby focusing on male-centric narratives rather than female-centric ones, and people are accusing each other of sexism and homophobia and internalized misogyny, and I don't know why I am always compelled to comment on this topic, but... here we are.

The first thing I want to say, as always, is that it is the opposite of helpful for anyone to attack anyone else for writing what they write, 'shipping what they 'ship, loving what they love. People have a multitude of reasons for their preferences, all of which are very personal. And the "problem", such as it is, isn't about what any individual person writes/ships/loves, etc. It's about patterns and trends, and where they fit within our wider culture. So I hope no one ever takes anything I write on this subject personally, because that's not, and never has been, the point.

I could link to all kinds of things, but I'll start with this post, which focuses on the historical context of m/m versus f/f erotica and how differently they have been portrayed in the mainstream media. It's worth reading and not too long, but the quick summary is that men having sex with men has historically been positioned as shameful and degrading, when it's visible at all, whereas women having sex with women is presented almost exclusively for the male gaze. The author then suggests that the different contexts make it revolutionary to bring positive and joyful depictions of m/m sex into the spotlight, whereas shining the spotlight on f/f sex is more problematic.

I certainly understand where the author of the post is coming from, and agree to a certain extent, but whenever someone concludes that the solution to problematic depictions of women in the media is to write more about men, I get edgy. Why are women so quick to erase ourselves from the narrative? In a world that is so focused on men and their stories, why is our first instinct to perpetuate that imbalance rather than reclaiming the story for ourselves? It bothers me.

As always, I don't have any easy answers -- and I think it's more important to raise the questions, anyway, to think about them and keep them in mind as I make my own choices about what stories to tell. That's all I can really do, anyway.

As long as I'm on the topic of meta, I want to point the folks who don't follow me on Tumblr to these two really great bits of fandom meta: meta vs. criticism vs. critique and slash fandom and queer fetishization. These are some of the best pieces I've read on those topics in a very long time and can't recommend them too highly. They're both going into my toolbox of references, for sure.
owlmoose: (tea - it's good for you)
Today was tea and snackies and the library with SE, then dinner with T, then the new series of Top Chef -- is it too soon to say that this cast looks promising? Then Nate Silver was on The Daily Show, and can I just say how much I love that one of the emerging narratives from this election cycle is pundits versus mathematics, and by just how much mathematics is winning?

Also, it looks like we will have 20 women Senators in the 113th Congress, and while some part of my brain is yelling at me ("20%? That's a freaking disgrace is what that is, why are you so happy?"), the rest of me is very, very happy.

I will likely have more to say about these things when I am not sneaking in my post for the day before I have to run off to bed. 'Night, all.
owlmoose: (Default)
The NPR list of the top 100 YA Novels, as chosen by reader nomination and vote, is out.

Remember I complained a little while back about the inclusion of YA novel nominees that were also on NPR's 100 best Sci Fi/Fantasy novels of all time, when the SF/F list was supposed to exclude YA as a category -- an exclusion that kept a lot of popular female authors from being represented?

Here are the novels that are on both top 100 lists. Guess what they all have in common. Just. Guess.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Dune by Frank Herbert (just the first book on the YA list, the series as a whole on the SF/F list)
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle


This is where I should write up some commentary about this amazing coincidence, but right now I'm just too angry to be coherent. Nice work, NPR quiz editors.
owlmoose: (CJ)
Some of you may have noticed that I am incapable of looking at a list of books and wondering what percentage of those books were written by women (evidence here and here) so when Nay asked me to help her crunch the data on a project she was doing for [community profile] ladybusiness about the gender breakdown of speculative fiction reviews on book blogs, my answer was "Where do I sign up?" I futzed with Excel and made her some charts, and the post with her results went up yesterday. It's some pretty fascinating (and sometimes discouraging) stuff. The upshot is that, while the overall percentages don't look too bad (about 40% of the authors reviewed were by women), there seem to be stark differences between the reviewing habits of women and of men.

If this topic interests you, I definitely recommend checking it out.
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
Somehow, I never got around to reading the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. Late last year, I was in my favorite used bookstore with a 20% off discount card, and I decided this was one of the things to remedy. So I bought the first four books, and finally finished reading them today.

It was good, but I didn't fall in love with them the way so many people have. Of the four, I liked The Tombs of Atuan the best, followed by Tehanu; the other two I was more lukewarm on. I enjoyed them well enough, I'm glad I read them, but something is missing for me, and I think it comes down to two things: the pacing, and Ged.

I don't dislike Ged, at all, and in Tombs of Atuan, especially, I liked him quite well. But I felt like I had too much distance from him, especially in A Wizard of Earthsea, which was supposed to be telling his story. I wanted a better view into his head, a better grip on what he was thinking and feeling. It made it hard for me to invest in him, and given that he's the central character in the series, it followed that I had a harder time investing in the books. It led to a lot of "telling not showing" in terms of how other characters were reacting to him, especially young Arren. Why is he inspiring such awe and devotion?

This is related to my other issue with the books, which was the pacing. Long sections of exposition, not a great balance for books that are this short, and the only one of the four that didn't feel rushed in the resolution was Tombs of Atuan. This might be personal preference, and it might be my modern reading tastes, but I had a hard time sinking in to any of the others, losing myself in the characters and their world.

I do want to mention one other thing about Tehanu; when I was talking to Jed about my progress in reading the series (I was working on Farthest Shore at the time, and finding it slow going), he mentioned that he avoided reading Tehanu for many years because people described it to him as a "feminist polemic". This is a theme I see in GoodReads reviews, too, and I find it troublesome. Unless the very fact of pointing out that women are oppressed in a society that doesn't allow them to own land or practice magic or hold positions of authority make a book a "polemic", it doesn't even come close. Yes, the book certainly deals with themes regarding the treatment of women in the world of the book (in ways that reflect on our own world), but I found the touch fairly deft, even as LeGuin was making her points. If this is what a feminist polemic looks like, then I say the world needs a whole lot more of them.
owlmoose: (B5 - Ivanova)
I posted earlier today about the Women of Dragon Age Challenge. Over on Tumblr, there's been a little bit of a discussion about the choice of the Bechdel Test as a criteria for submissions. I have some thoughts -- of course I have thoughts; any discussion of the Bechdel Test is like catnip to me -- but I didn't want to hijack the post advertising the challenge, so I've come over here to talk about it instead.

One of the things I love about this particular challenge is that it explicitly references Bechdel and requests that every story pass. I have said before, and continue to believe, that the Bechdel Test is not primarily about evaluating the quality or female-friendliness of any one particular work but about looking at larger patterns in media. But still, I do think it can be a really great tool to apply to our own writing, because it makes us really think about our choices. Which characters do we write about? What do they talk about? And why?

To use a Dragon Age example, let's say I decided to write a story about Aveline and Brennan, discussing a man they arrested and the crime he committed. Is that a conversation about a man, or is it a conversation about work? I would tend to say that it's the latter, which would allow it to be considered it a Bechdel pass, even if the criminal is the only thing they talk about. But let me take a step back and ask another question: does the criminal have to be a man? Is there some reason intrinsic to the story I'm telling? Or did I make him a man because we tend to think of male as the default? Did I pick a minor male NPC because he fit into the story better than any other NPC available, or was he just an easy choice? Could I have made the character a woman, or chosen a female NPC, without any fundamental change to the story? And if the answer is yes, then why not do it?

I'm not saying every story can or should pass the strictest version of the Bechdel Test, especially not short stories, and especially not in fanfic where we are limited by the characters presented to us in canon. But I appreciate that we can use this challenge, and others like it, as an opportunity to look at our work a little more critically.
owlmoose: (B5 - Ivanova)
I had thoughts on the article about the agent who asked two authors to de-gay their YA novel (a story which has now come under dispute by the agent in question; my thoughts on the resulting pushback are best summed up in this tweet by Scott Westerfeld, but I digress). It turns out that [personal profile] renay also had thoughts, and we bounced those thoughts around and off each other, and we posted the results over on [community profile] ladybusiness:

http://ladybusiness.dreamwidth.org/15574.html

Your thoughts on our thoughts welcome!
owlmoose: (westeros - stark)
So I've been meaning to write my own big long post on this topic, but I'm holding off until I finish the first season of the HBO series (which, if my current schedule holds, should happen a week from today). Meanwhile, though, I've been busy mulling over Sady Doyle's recent takedown of the series in Tiger Beatdown. It's been frustrating to me, because I'm hard put to actually argue with much that she says there (except for some factual errors regarding who is claiming to be king of what), and yet the whole thing doesn't sit right with me, for reasons that I was unable to fully explain.

Fortunately, Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress does a really excellent job of explaining them for me. I don't agree totally with everything in the Think Progress critique, but there is a lot in here that helped me see why I found the Tiger Beatdown piece reductionist and disappointing. Definitely recommended.

As for my own thoughts... I'll come back with them next week. I hope.

Book meme

Aug. 13th, 2011 07:43 pm
owlmoose: (Default)
I'm not sure how to feel about the fact that the NPR SF/F Top 100 list that I posted about the other day has morphed into yet another book meme, for the most part without any critical commentary. (I was, however, happy to see an entry on NPR's Monkey See blog that calls out the list for its maleness and mentions the YA ban as a partial reason.) There is [personal profile] eruthros's call for nominations to create a Top 100 list of speculative fiction works, at least one goal of which is to promote more diversity, but the call requests nominations across all forms media. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. I wish someone would do a book-focused list targeted at fandom.

But, well, I never met a book meme I could resist, so here you go. I make no claims to this list's legitimacy as a canon or source for reading recommendations. Bold if you've read, italicize ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a book/series you've read part but not all of.

Huh, I've read exactly half, not counting partial reads. )
owlmoose: stack of books (book - pile)
The NPR List of Top 100 SF/F Books, as previously discussed here, is now out. So, how did the books by women do? (Spoiler: it's pretty grim.)

  • There are 15 books by women on the list, or 15%.

  • None of these are in the top 10.

  • Only one is in the top 20, and it's #20 (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley).

  • In the top 50, there are 6 books by women (12%) and 6 female authors (16% out of 38 unique authors listed). In comparison, of the top 50 books in the Tor.com poll, 22% were by women. (I don't have data on the authors to hand.)

  • Out of 75 unique authors on the NPR list, 14 are women, or 30%. The only woman with two books listed is Ursula K. LeGuin.


Why? Well, all the same reasons I listed before: the narrow definition of SF/F (excluding horror, paranormal romance -- except for Diana Gabaldon, apparently -- and YA, all subgenres with a stronger representation of women), the "all time" nature of the list, the fact that the list of nominees wasn't terribly diverse to start with. At first glance, the percentage of women with books in the top 100 doesn't seem too bad, but if you drill down a little bit, it seems to have more to do with a lack of variety among the male authors: there are 85 books by men on the list, but only 61 unique authors are represented (including two books co-authored by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle). Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Neal Stephenson have a whopping four books each on the list. That's almost as many books as all the women combined. Four others -- Isaac Asmiov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Larry Niven (counting his co-author credits) -- have three, and there are many others with two. To think that only one women wrote multiple books worthy of inclusion on this list is pretty sad. Not to mention unlikely.

(Also: Neal Stephenson? Really? I mean, I enjoyed Snow Crash and The Diamond Age as much as anyone, and to be fair I haven't read Anathem yet, but... really? Four of the best SF/F books of all time?)

In retrospect, I think this makes the Tor.com list look better, and a potential sign of progress given its focus on recent titles. I do wish that NPR would make their raw nomination list available -- how many women were winnowed out in the selection process? How many nominees were cut because of their strict genre rules? Then we might have something more interesting to work with. More data, I need more data!

So, in a nutshell: not encouraging, not surprising. Earlier this year, The Guardian ran a similar "reader favorites" SF/F list, which somehow I missed until [community profile] ladybusiness posted about it in a special linkspam about women on SF/F lists (scroll down to May 2011 on the timeline for several good posts on the topic) with similar results; probably the best thing to come out of that debate is this post from author Nicola Griffith, in which she proposes "The Russ Pledge":

The single most important thing we (readers, writers, journalists, critics, publishers, editors, etc.) can do is talk about women writers whenever we talk about men. And if we honestly can't think of women 'good enough' to match those men, then we should wonder aloud (or in print) why that is so. If it's appropriate (it might not be, always) we should point to the historical bias that consistently reduces the stature of women's literature; we should point to Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, which is still the best book I've ever read on the subject. We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women's work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed. Call it the Russ Pledge. I like to think she would have approved.


I still haven't read Russ's book, but it's becoming more and more clear that I need to. It keeps coming up in these debates, and it must be for good reason. But regardless, this seems like an excellent way forward. Always, always raise the question: where are the women? And other marginalized groups as well -- at first glance, this list looks awfully white, and I don't even want to think about other representation issues. Nothing will ever change if we don't ask the questions, and I don't think there's much doubt that things need to change.
owlmoose: (Default)
The latest entry in the area of "readers vote for the best of science fiction and fantasy books" lists is brought to you by NPR. The call for nominations went out in June, and the official list of nominees was released today. If you're interested in voting, you can do so here.

Whenever confronted with a list like this, I almost always have the same first thought: "Where are the women?" So I downloaded the list, and did a little number crunching. My next thought was to compare these results to the Tor.com poll I posted about earlier this year. It's difficult to compare directly, for lots of reasons -- the NPR list is curated and all-time, while the Tor.com data comes straight from the reader nominations, no filter, and only covers the last decade (2000-2010). On the other hand, the NPR poll has stricter genre rules: no horror, no paranormal romance, and no YA, and those exclusions cut out a lot of prolific women right off the bat (no Anne Rice, no Charlaine Harris, no J.K. Rowling). So, lots of factors at work here, and if I were better at statistical analysis, I would be better able to account for them, but I'm strictly an amateur here. ;)

Okay, caveats done; what did we learn?

  • Out of 237 books/series on the list, 52 were written by women, or 22%

  • Out of 167 authors with at least one book nominated, 37 are women, which is also 22%

  • At first glance, the Tor.com percentages look better: 41% of the authors nominated were women, and 38% of the nominated books were written by women. But only 24% of the top 50 books in the Tor.com poll had women authors or co-authors. Since I don't know how many books were culled from the NPR nominations to make the official list, it's hard to say which is the more relevant number to compare.


So for now, not much to say, really. I just wanted to put this on the radar. With luck, I should have something more thoughtful when the poll is done. Watch this space.

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