Nebula Voters HATE WHITE DUDES!!!
SF Signal posted the Nebula Award Finalists yesterday, with links to lots of free fiction. (Huge congratulations to all the nominees, by the way.) I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the diversity of the nominees this year. Rose Fox did a breakdown over at Genreville.
So of course it didn’t take long for someone to pop up in the SF Signal comments to say:
Sure is a huge slant towards women and the non white male. If we don’t start counteracting all the relentless one sided articles soon. Then SF is going to look a lot like the Romance Genre. And the funny thing is there wasn’t even a fight.
Thats my Counterpoint Mirror to todays Half Truths(its the other half that will complete you)
Another commenter jumped in to say how girly the list was, and to talk about how he reads a very broad and diverse range of male authors.
I wish I was making that up.
(He did concede that he’d be willing to check out Mary Robinette Kowal’s book, though. I assume it’s because she’s proven her manliness credentials.)
The fact that there are dumbasses on the internet should come as no surprise to anyone. And plenty of folks have been happily mocking the clueless trolls. But maybe we’re not giving the poor troll enough credit.
Sure, he packs an impressive amount of idiocy into a single comment. But what if it’s not just a dude who doesn’t want women and non-white folks in his genre, with a bonus scoop of “Romance is icky!!!” What if, instead of being a dumbass, he’s trying to make a sneakier point?
After all, some of us have complained time and again when we see an awards ballot or anthology list dominated by white men. If I mock these commenters for complaining about a list dominated by…um…well, people who aren’t white men, then I’M A FLAMING HYPOCRITE AND MY ENTIRE SOAP BOX WILL COLLAPSE UNDER THE WEIGHT OF MY DOUBLE-STANDARDS!
Why, if this was his devious plan all along, then we the PC Thought Police of Doom have DRASTICALLY underestimated our opposition! This isn’t a clueless, sexist, racist dumbass after all! This is a Moriarty-type genius of–
No, wait, sorry. My bad. Still a clueless, sexist, racist dumbass. Tell you what, dude–when you can demonstrate a pattern of historical discrimination against white male authors, if you can show how we’re persistently under-reviewed, under-nominated for awards, underrepresented in “Best of” anthologies, then we’ll talk.
In the meantime, my condolences to the good folks at SF Signal. It’s never fun when the neighbor’s ill-behaved dog shows up to take a dump in your yard.
ETA: Changed the title because penis =/= dude. My apologies. Dammit, I’m supposed to be smarter than that.
February 21, 2013 @ 7:28 pm
As a member of SF Signal, I fear that it makes it look like the people behind SF Signal agree with these idjits when they choose our site to express these paleolithic opinions.
February 21, 2013 @ 7:28 pm
And yet another reason to love you, Jim. Insert thunderous applause here.
John E. O. Stevens
February 21, 2013 @ 7:55 pm
I just popped in to say that as another SF Signallian I don’t share Paul’s fear. The site has always had a pretty open comment policy and plenty of folks chimed in against the trollkin. I think the comments are at least 3:1 against those bemoaning the lack of pale phallus-wielding scientifictioneers.
The most hilarious thing was the discussion of 2312 as weak, as if to say that the token white guy entry was insufficient to truly compete with the non white males. And by hilarious I mean headdesk-inspiring.
Jim C. Hines
February 21, 2013 @ 8:00 pm
The majority of the commenters over there seem to recognize the idiocy for what it is, which I think speaks well of the site and the community.
February 21, 2013 @ 8:02 pm
Hey I love this, but can we stop the penis=male body part thing please? That’s starting to make me cringe in all this. Thanks!
February 21, 2013 @ 8:07 pm
WHARGLBARGL is the term we’re looking for here.
Dude’s 3 seconds away from asking for the President’s birth certificate, or possibly something about Roswell.
Jim C. Hines
February 21, 2013 @ 8:09 pm
You’re right. My apologies.
February 21, 2013 @ 8:11 pm
It’s ok, it’s a hard part of our conditioning to get past. 🙂 And I knew you’d see it once it was pointed out.
Now that’s said OH MY GOD THOSE COMMENTS I CAN’T EVEN sidhsgiljhdfglkjahdg
February 21, 2013 @ 8:18 pm
Or both. I mean, everyone knows that Roswell is where they keep Obama’s real birth certificate, right? 😉
February 21, 2013 @ 8:34 pm
“I read 346 books last year and my tastes are quite wide and roaming, but I do tend to stick to male authors.”
I notice that this sort tends to assert [weirdly specific large number] of books read per year. As though being such a volumed reader makes their bigotry worldly and learned and not, you know. Bigotry. I find it about as predictive as “Now, I’m not the type to [x] but…” is for identifying type [x].
It isn’t so much whether the claim is legitimate or inflated. It’s a signifier, to me at least, about how a person is constructing their arguments and comes with some implications.
But, look. I’ve read 1,565 comments in CY13, on various news sites, blogs, and tumblrs. Including Twitter feeds, the number is well above 10,000. I’ve also spent 153 hours reading YouTube comments this year. So, I think I know what I’m talking about.
February 22, 2013 @ 12:03 am
“Changed the title because penis =/= dude. My apologies. Dammit, I’m supposed to be smarter than that.”
Congratulations; you are officially beyond parody.
February 22, 2013 @ 12:09 am
The penis is a male body part. The science is settled.
February 22, 2013 @ 12:11 am
They said if I voted for Romney, we’d find ourselves at the mercy of deluded, agenda-laden anti-science zealots, and they were right! I did, and we are.
February 22, 2013 @ 1:18 am
Or the other option could be change it to “Nebula Voters HATE CIS PENISES!”… some folks do have a biological gender identity and I think the bigots who are scared of diversity would also be scared of trans-men who don’t pass or have been outed.
<3 from a Cis Lady who’s so happy the Cis label exists now, it should be used more. 🙂
February 22, 2013 @ 1:23 am
And dang, wish there was an edit button. I totally mis-spelt Trans Men… Cis and Trans should be spelt the same and there’s some bad hyphens and capitalization in my comment. Doh!
February 22, 2013 @ 2:21 am
It’s okay, Liz — everyone knew what you meant and you’re quite right. Trans men are likely the only thing these sorts fear more than women.
(I am also a cis woman, but have friends of all sorts, including, probably, those I don’t know whether they’re trans or cis or either or neither or both or… y’know, I’m not sleeping with them, so I don’t care)
Friday Bookshelf: February 22, 2013 | Plot Driven
February 22, 2013 @ 10:24 am
[…] that is a list with 4 women on it, which has been much discussed on twitter.
Anne Gray (@zer_netmouse)
February 22, 2013 @ 11:43 am
That’s kind of a fascinating side discussion. A penis is, in fact, a male body part. Per the definition of the ADJECTIVE, Male: Belonging to the sex which produces sperm, which in humans and many other species is the one which has XY chromosomes.
But Jim wasn’t using the adjective, he was using the NOUN, penis, as a stand-in – the noun was intended to mean “males”. The noun male is defined using the word “gender”. And it is commonly acceptable that many people with male body parts do not identify as people of the male, or masculine, gender. Many of whom publicly present as female.
English is so crazy.
February 22, 2013 @ 4:13 pm
This interesting conversation got me thinking about language use. I remember tearing a guy in the comicbook store a new one when I was about 14 for calling me dude. I was sick of people mistaking me for a boy. I was sick of society saying “girls don’t do X” but when girls did X they didn’t change their mind, they just labeled the girl as a tomboy – they gave her a title with a male name and a masculine definition. So I lectured people out of calling me tomboy, how dare they take what I did and I liked away from women and give it to men as well?… the boys got enough and it wasn’t fair for society to co-opt my actions and unmake them. So I was pretty aggressive about shutting people down when they referred to me with masculine terms rather than gender neutral or female terms.
I tore the comic book guy a new one, and he looked really baffled and said, “Sorry, I think of dude as gender neutral, anyone can be a dude.” And I was somewhat mollified, in part because I didn’t really mind being called a dude, but still uncomfortable with his explanation. I can be called a dude and that just means human, except when it isn’t convenient… and nobody means anything by it and I don’t mind being called dude, but it’s a little like mankind. Sometimes it means human, sometimes it means just the boys. It’s a club a girl can be put into and it’s no big deal, maybe even a compliment. It’s a club a girl can be kicked out of, just as easily. I’m sad there are so many terms that have as one of their definitions “human” that I don’t always fit. These days I like it when my friends say to me, “dude!”
Anyhow, just some reflections for your day.
February 22, 2013 @ 5:00 pm
“Dude” has been gender-neutral language for at least 25 years, unless it is otherwise qualified to a specific person. Like The Dude.
So while your general point about tomboyness and gender roles is well-taken, I also understand the comic book guy’s confusion. I’d have been bewildered as well.
February 22, 2013 @ 5:10 pm
Help, help, the white men are being repressed!
So, these idiots are not only insulting to all the fine women on this list, but also to lovely chaps such as Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Liu.
It’s a twofer of bigotry!
February 22, 2013 @ 5:59 pm
Exactly, and yet in the current context we know that when Jim changes a title to “Nebula Voters HATE WHITE DUDES!” he is known to be referring to people of the masculine gender.
February 22, 2013 @ 6:07 pm
25 years of dude being “gender neutral” for a human being, but no one blinks when dude excludes my gender as human. I just grow weary of my humanity being convenient, contingent and that this is so normal it’s generally not noticed.
February 22, 2013 @ 6:27 pm
I think you are being a bit silly. I tend to stick to books by male authors*, and I could see stating my “sample size” as well. After all, if I read 5 books a year (most by male authors), that doesn’t mean as much as reading 200-300.
From here, it seems like you are complaining about nothing.
* In my sample size, I notice a correlation between female authors and urban fantasy books with too much romance for my tastes (it often gets in the way of main plot). Not that I judge whether I’ll read a book by the author’s gender; usually I read the summary, reviews, and look for a cover without a hot girl in a ridiculous pose.
February 22, 2013 @ 8:30 pm
Meh. It isn’t a complaint. More an observation. But the silliness charge, in general, is fair. I maintain that it is more predictive than a groundhog seeing its shadow for the length of seasons and less predictive than a math equation.
February 22, 2013 @ 11:47 pm
We still live in a culture where “white male” is considered the “normal” and “default” setting, and everything that deviates from that setting is seen as a big concession. So, you know, ONE woman on the Nebula list would probably be okay, because that would be a generous concession on the part of the “normal, default” setting (i.e. all white males)–and a woman AND an African-American writer along with all the normal-default white-male candidates would be INCREDIBLY DIVERSE AND PROGRESSIVE.
But there’s a growing fear that… “white male” may no longer BE a “normal” and “default” settings. And… my GOD, man! That way leads to madness! Mass hysteria! Dogs and cats, living openly together!
February 23, 2013 @ 2:13 am
What I want to know is, how the heck is he reading 346 books a year? That is practically one a day. Did he find that magical job that pays you to read whatever you want and pays by the book? If so, I might be willing to commit some various and possibly vaguely illegal things to get that job from him…
February 25, 2013 @ 5:41 pm
I was pleased to see a decent amount of diversity and the females doing well. I was surprised, though, that there was only one SF novel on the ballot. I do not at all subscribe to the invasion theory of one thing blotting out another thing, such as female writers blotting out male ones or fantasy blotting out SF — have in fact vigorously argued against it (with facts and everything,) but I know quite a lot of folk who do, and I would assume a fair amount of screaming on that is going on too now.
Laserwraith — While I thoroughly accept people’s right to make their own reading choices, the reality is that most female written, female protagonist urban fantasies have no more romance and sex in them than male ones (not counting paranormal romances which are a different kettle of fish altogether.) The sticking point often seems to be that the female ones have a female gaze and that makes many readers, male and female, uncomfortable and inclined to label it as a romance focus that they think must be important to the female author because it’s considered an interest of females and a lack of interest in males.
As a female hetero reader, I have to deal with the male gaze continually, especially in noir urban fantasy. I learn the breast size of every female character and her figure. I am constantly told how her gaze makes the guy hero hot under the collar. While the characters are on the run from the baddies, I am likely to be treated to a description of how cute the female character’s ass looks as they climb a ladder, or how it feels to have her breasts pressed against his chest as they hide. The male protagonist will also have emotional reactions to female characters, and debate mentally romantic issues about one woman or several. In Libriomancer, for instance (an excellent book,) I am treated constantly to such descriptions of Lena, sexually and romantically, which is a major plot point. And yet, all of this material is not even processed as romantic or sexual, or even relevant to the plot though it often is, but just normal background with a male protagonist, especially from a male author. I’ve never heard anyone refer to Libriomancer as a romance novel. We are so used to the hetero male gaze as the default, we just can’t process it in that context.
But when it is a female writer with a female protagonist, you get the female hetero gaze often, which just like the male hetero gaze, notices physical attributes — chests, butts, etc. — of male characters, and will have inner sexual and romantic issues with one or more male characters, sometimes in passing and sometimes in major plot arcs, as Jim did with Lena and Isaac. And that gaze has been around in fantasy fiction, but it was less common and got less media attention until the oughts. And a lot of readers instantly categorize that material — which is identical to the male material (and yeah, yeah, I’ve read thousands and thousands of novels and thousands more manuscripts) — as romantic, disturbing, icky, not to their tastes, etc. Because we’re not used to it and we’re used to classifying it as female and therefore romance, central, and overly sexual because we are uncomfortable with a woman character openly having sexual thoughts, while a male character openly having sexual thoughts is normal and just sinks in without our noticing it, much less bothered by it or thinking that it interferes with plot.
And again, if it’s icky, it’s icky and no one has to read what they don’t want. But I would love to get to the point where more folk, particularly men, were less uncomfortable with reading stories set in the female gaze, less inclined to immediately classify it as romance based instead of suspense based and the female author as obviously most interested in romance because she’s female and let her female character have a sex life or a boyfriend or a romantic triangle, just like a male character can have a sex life or a girlfriend or a romantic triangle. Romance writers, male and female, do great work and write stories that are layered and complex, but it would be nice if female authors of both romance and urban fantasy, etc., could get out of the stereotypes of femalehood, and if the gender of the author and the protagonist was no longer an issue in fiction, and in particularly, in getting males to read works of fiction. Just my hope for down the road that preferences start to change.
February 25, 2013 @ 8:34 pm
KatG, you make a good point. I tend to appreciate a male hetero POV better, since I am a male and hetero. However, I must have bad luck in picking urban fantasy featuring female heroines, since the romance in most of them seems to detract from the plot. I often get frustrated reading character development (not necessarily romantic development) while there are things to do!
I don’t really care much when a male is described from a usual female POV, but I can often guess what shows up in the novel next (and I hate it). The mysterious hot male now occupies 70% of the lead character’s thoughts, and he also pops in to save the day or provide more information.
Maybe I can sum up my thoughts like this: the novels I read which feature a male POV seem to have less romance than those from female POVs. The romance I’m thinking of is not describing someone the lead is interested in, but fantasizing about them while they aren’t there, flirting, and having sex.
Take, for example, Harry Dresden. In the 13+ books in the series, he certainly appreciatively describes many females. He has sex very rarely, though, and his thoughts are usually not romantically focused – instead, he is intent upon surviving and solving his latest puzzle. Sometimes females are involved in his quests (e.g., Murphy assists him a lot), but a lot of his time with her is focused on their latest case.
A little romance fleshes out a story, but I prefer when it is something that happens alongside the main plot and doesn’t take much time away from it.
February 26, 2013 @ 1:23 am
Again, my point is that 70 percent of the female’s thoughts usually are not about the males — it’s just that readers tend to notice it more when it’s a female writer and a female protagonist and they magnify the import of that material. It does not engage them, as it is a female view of these matters, and it seems more of an obstacle to the story, while the same exact material from the males is processed as simply part of the story and not that important. (And I’m talking about exact as in exact wording simply adjusted for the hetero gender roles and bodies.) That the female is actually dealing with the suspense puzzle, holding off wars against groups of supernaturals, engaging in physical fights, has critical powers that stop disasters, struggling with relationships with family members and mentors — all that often gets ignored with female protagonists because they notice that handsome males have nice butts, whereas — as you might note you just did with Harry Dresden — men noticing the females’ nice bodies constantly is not a problem or distraction or even something you notice much. Harry Dresden is a romantic. He constantly admires women physically, is involved with sexual conversations with them, thinks about various females when they aren’t there, falls in love, has several romantic relationships, has an on-going should we relationship with Murphy throughout the books, has to kill a past love and get over the return of another one, deal with women who are in love with him or want to possess him including sexually such as the fairie queens, etc. In other words, he’s a pretty typical male hetero detective figure, not counting the magic. In the urban fantasy with female detectives, they are also noir figures and the situation is simply flipped — they have healthy sexual interest in males around them, they have flirtations and more serious relationships, competing options, men who are in love with them or who want to possess them including sexually, lovers thought dead or gone who return, etc. But for Harry, it gets processed as part of the story, sometimes as with Susan a very critical part of the story, but with female written females, it’s considered moving away from the story.
The difference is that readers, especially male ones, both notice more when it’s the female from a female author and also elevate its importance in the story and find it more intrusive because it’s more alien. Even for some female readers, they don’t like female romantic interest or sexual thoughts because they are used to the male gaze and can simply ignore the male gaze as part of the wallpaper, while the female gaze seems drippy or too erotic. Even when a male author writes about a hetero couple team and their romance is a critical part of the books, it usually will not be seen as important or central, whereas with a woman writing about a couple, such as Patricia Briggs, it will be seen as the whole point of the story whatever the suspense plot.
It is a personification of male and female intent along stereotypical lines and around a level of comfort with the male gaze. Women authors get praised if they neuter their female characters and have them behave as much like stereotypical male characters as possible but without the sexual thoughts and romantic issues that male characters have, or if they write about male protagonists, who can then have sexual thoughts and romantic issues without it being considered strange or overboard, although males written by females are often held to a higher standard on that front than males writing about females or males. So it’s definitely a cultural thing concerning beliefs about how men and women think, and it does shift over time as readers get more familiar with the female gaze. But in the meantime, there’s the insistence that women are all doing that thing over there, even when they go through the male noir suspense playbook rule by rule, which often leaves women authors more constricted and receiving less media attention, critical acclaim, etc. So it is nice that the Nebula noms have a good peppering of women written fiction, but the complaints Jim mentions in the forums would not have been out of place in the 1970’s.
February 26, 2013 @ 9:20 am
Again, you have a point. And it is hard to objectively prove how much “romance” a story contains, so comparisons are difficult.
I’ll probably still stay away from books from female point of views, since they seem like progress is very slow. Maybe it is because I don’t appreciate the character development from the female POV – but either way, only a few books from that POV satisfy me. For example, the Kate Daniels series, despite the romance, seemed to stay pretty focused on the main plot. And I liked it, female POV and all (despite Curran’s over-protectiveness, which was very annoying).
I might have a subconscious bias against things described from the female POV, but I wonder if there is any way to be a bit more objective. Maybe making a list of things the main characters get done? Hmm.
February 26, 2013 @ 1:25 pm
It’s actually really not hard at all to count how much actual romantic content a story contains. I am stuck reading/assessing on two levels, as a reader and then editorial/construction, and it’s quite easy to break it down structurally. But the issue is bias in counting and how much weight is given to romantic content as “central” and important to a character versus another character in another novel. That’s where the social stereotypes come into play. So if you run your experiment, you may want a partner who is a female comfortable with female written and protagonist novels doing counting too. But what is likely to be effective — and is what social scientists often do as experiments in perceptive biases — is to take a portion of a fiction suspense text written by a female author with a female protagonist, change the gender to hetero cis male and the gender of an attractive character of male persuasion to female and adjust any physical traits noticed — breasts to shoulders, etc., but keep everything else the same — dialog, etc. — and then give that text to people, tell them it’s a male author and ask them about the content. It’s highly unlikely that most of them will regard the text as romantic and overly sexual, no matter how much flirting occurs, or consider the material a distraction or obstacle to the plot. For instance, I’m reading Devon Monk’s Magic to the Bone, which is chiefly about the main character’s difficult relationship with her father, and a threat to her that she will have to uncover and solve, and like Dresden, she’s had no real sex life for awhile. But the opening chapters, while involving a boy in danger, a confrontation with her father, physical issues with magic and cutaways to another character altogether, also involve a male character who is attractive, flirty, mysterious and turns out to have been working for her father, who the main character analyzes for his looks but also his behavior and questions him as she responds to his flirting. If it were a male detective instead of the female and the suspicious, flirty male was female, it simply wouldn’t be processed as particularly romantic and interfering with the plot. But if you give those early chapters to someone who doesn’t like female driven stories much, it is likely to be seen as overly romantic. Because she keeps noticing things about his body, and we’re used to the female body being analyzed as a sexual object and prospect, not the male. And you can do the same with a male written male protagonist and switch it to female and claim it’s by a female author, and you may find that the romance and sex assessment goes way up by readers.
Novels do vary in how much romantic content they have — but they do so for both groups of male authors and groups of female authors. Additionally, female protagonists in suspense are likely to deal with more male sexual aggression and sexual threat from toughs and villains than male detectives deal with female sexual aggression and sexual threat, whether the writer is male or female. That often effects the perception that female driven stories are more concerned with romance and sex than the preferred, “masculine” straight violence, because the intimidation threat is not just to be beaten but to be raped or felt up.
Amy (who got not cupcakes)
February 26, 2013 @ 4:42 pm
KatG, thank you for the analysis! These kinds of explanations are hugely time-consuming to write, but they are so very important to understanding our own perceptions and behavior!
February 26, 2013 @ 10:36 pm
Oh, come on, now! You know damn well that it’s where they keep Elvis, Bigfoot and JFK’s brain! 😛
February 26, 2013 @ 11:05 pm
As Amy said, thank you for your posts – very informative. I’ll have to pay more attention to these details next time I read urban fantasy with some romantic content (currently I’m read through the Nightside series again, and John Taylor seems to have almost no romantic life at all beyond very basic flirting).
But I do want to comment on one thing you said:
“Additionally, female protagonists in suspense are likely to deal with more male sexual aggression and sexual threat from toughs and villains than male detectives deal with female sexual aggression and sexual threat, whether the writer is male or female.”
Since you have read the Dresden Files (I think you said so), would you say they are something of an exception? Harry seems to face very sexual females (human and not) who use their sexuality as a weapon. Some of the queens of faerie, White Court vampires, etc.
I bring up the Dresden Files mainly because it’s my favorite series, and fairly well-known in the fantasy community.
February 27, 2013 @ 1:39 am
Not exactly an exception, since other male and female authors have done it with male protagonists, but it is flipping the gender perceptions very deliberately. It’s less common, but very effective when done. But the difference is that readers will tend to set to the male default in those instances — they won’t see such a narrative as overly sexual or the incidences of the female aggression as detracting from and separate from the plot, as something that has to be endured before you can get back to the action. Harry can be kissed, fondled, sexually threatened, and feel attraction for the fairy magic, etc. — and has been — and yet readers will swear that the books are low in sexual content. Harry can assess the body of every female he encounters as a sexual object, report the female body movements in his pov, etc., and again, it’s regarded as low sexual interest. It’s simply processed as part of the plot — because we accept it from male characters and it’s considered worthy material from male characters.
But if it’s a female protagonist and she was sexually threatened in the same way by male fairy kings – and if the author was female primarily — that would likely cause a reaction that the book was overly sexual, that the male fairy lust material was annoying and separate from the plot, and that it was romantic, especially if the female is attracted to the fairy magic as Harry is, with women submitting to alpha males, etc., and that this was very important to the female author instead of just a typical way of using villains or powerful antihero types to test the protagonist and create plot obstacles.
A lot of this is simply social conditioning. We believe women love romance and men prefer to avoid it in favor of action and violence. (Whereas in my experience, male authors are often the most romantic and idealistic about romantic relationships.) And so even though the material is basically the same — and part of long established suspense tradition — we treat it differently.
The Dresden books are great with wonderfully complicated politics. Harry’s central battle — to retain control of his increasing (destined) powers and not destroy those around him from them — is certainly classic and emotionally powerful. But part of that central battle is a lot of romance — of not wanting to destroy women he loves, has sex with, cares about with sexual aspects and flirts with. And part of the tradition of snappy patter noir suspense that Butcher uses (and Jim uses as well,) is an endless amount of flirting and appreciating of the female form sexually, as well as romantic idealistic admiration for the women as appealing in general. There is in fact a solid dose of multiple romances in the series with deep emotional consequences to the plots (including Harry being possessed by a female fallen angel for awhile,) and even more sexual material. Yet there is a serious social investment in many readers of the series insisting that Harry is not very romantic. If he is, then the books are more womanly and thus, not as good or at least not in the way that the readers prefer books to be valued (i.e. not as good.)
When you add that notion to a female protagonist whose pov will be the female gaze, and she’s not a eunuch, flirts like a male detective, and males treat her as a sexual object/potential partner/victim, etc., then the book is seen as very womanly, very romantic, uncomfortably sexual and not concentrating on the important stuff (anything that is not about the woman’s love life or sexual assessments no matter how critical those are to the plot,) i.e. not as good.
Female authors learn very quickly that they are being held to different standards on these issues. So it becomes a tightrope when a female author wants to do a suspense or thriller series. Because no matter how much the (female-written) female protagonist may be focused on trying to stop a war exploding between supernatural factions or on rescuing her brother or figuring out how and why a dear friend was killed, if she has a love interest like Harry has Susan, or even Murphy, it’s likely to be labeled as a romance, which means a large cut of men and some women won’t read it (especially with the comics art based covers the booksellers seem to be insisting be used despite a lack of interest in them from readers of both sexes.) And if she has a sex scene, she may get it labeled erotica or a high sex series. If she’s okay with those labels, she can work around it, but if she really wants to avoid them, there are standard, traditional suspense plot features she can’t even think of using, or can try to use but will work better with her writing a male protagonist. And she better not use sex as an element of any magic, say, or alien issues, though a male author can do this. If she is writing actual erotica or paranormal romance, then those novels tend to be seen as less interesting than male authors writing erotica and paranormal romance. And if you’re writing comic suspense fantasy which often uses romantic and sexual farce, then it gets tricky.
It’s getting better. You’re trying things, other people are. Male authors are making use of female protagonists more which then makes female protagonists seem less useless to many readers. The market has now shifted in its mistaken view of female authors being stately and flowery and thus it being very alarming when they were writing hard-boiled suspense in large and sometimes successful numbers. There was an obsession that every female contemporary fantasy author was replicating Twilight (an actual romance series,) for a bit, but that’s eased for now. There’s a wait and see attitude towards newer female SF writers. But the complaints over female written fantasy and SF at SF Signal re the Nebula noms are pretty rote. Women still hear them in every area of fiction. And it can effect them getting award nominations, so it’s nice to see this ballot.
February 28, 2013 @ 12:54 am
LaserWraith, “Maybe it is because I don’t appreciate the character development from the female POV – but either way, only a few books from that POV satisfy me.”
I got the impression from earlier in the thread that you read a fair amount. Story telling is a fairly nuanced art, yes? As in, there’s a lot of subtext from genre to genre that one really has to learn in order to fully appreciate the conversation taking place. A person completely unfamiliar with fantasy may find it hard to jump into a fantasy series that offers no background information on the common types of characters and plot points and such that one encounters in fantasy, right? In a similar – but not totally analogous – way if you aren’t used to reading a particular point of view it can make appreciating it challenging.
I think the solution to this particular problem would be to deliberately set one’s self to reading books from that POV. Spend some time with them. Try different authors. Even keep the same genres if you like. I think getting acquainted with and learning to appreciate different points of view and different types of story telling enhances one’s enjoyment of reading in general.
I know it’s a bit on the nose. We all learned our appreciation for reading by spending a great portion of our youth reading. Meaning, it took time to learn to appreciate a good book. It’s easy to forget how much effort it took to really take to reading. Especially the level of time commitment required to read a book a day for a year. We forget that it took this work to get to that point. As a result, we dismiss new things as uninteresting because we forget we need to work to appreciate them by expanding our understanding. We forget we don’t know enough about something new to tell the bad from the different.
YMMV. This is just my 2 cents added on to Kat’s, who’s thoughts on this I’ve appreciated reading.
February 28, 2013 @ 11:49 am
I read some female UF, and you are right, I’d probably appreciate it more if I read more.
I actually do appreciate some of those books, but another of my issues (besides the perceived overabundance of romance that KatG and I talked about) is one concerning power and ability. When I read a book, I like to pretend I’m the main character (and that is one reason I don’t like changing POVs). I like to “be” a male character, since I like being one in real life. I also enjoy the power and abilities many urban fantasy characters have, since I would be excited to have some of them myself.
Mostly I stick to UF with male magicians/wizards, like Alex Verus, Harry Dresden, John Taylor, etc., because I’d like to be them. They have cool powers and do cool things. And it works for some of the female UF I’ve read. Kate Daniels has some abilities, and can generally fight most anything she faces.
What gets to me, though, is when the character mostly relies on help to get through battles. Especially when the love interest has to save them.
In the Dresden Files, Harry works with and fights alongside some of his romantic interests. But in general, he can hold his own. Sometimes he saves them, and sometimes vice versa. He is a powerful wizard and faces down tons of bad things, and especially towards the latter part of the series, he takes a lead role.
Simply put, I like “kick*ss” characters. And I’m happy with reading ones from female POVs as long as they can hold their own…but I’ve been let down so often that I’m pretty skeptical nowadays.
February 28, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
For a year try alternating the genders of your authors or try not reading work by a white male author twice in a row (so you read either a book by a male author of color or any female author). You’ll love some, you’ll be bored by others, but if you stick to it I think you’ll make all sorts of interesting discoveries and enjoy new stuff.
Give it a go… maybe you’ll read a bit slower as you explore new voices and try to find diverse authors you enjoy (can you imagine the pressure on male authors if they had to win or lose as a gender based on any 2 or 3 books/authors?). I know the adrenaline rush of finishing a book is fun and addictive, but you’ll get other adrenaline rushes and pleasures, I promise.
March 1, 2013 @ 5:35 pm
Laser Wraith: “What gets to me, though, is when the character mostly relies on help to get through battles. Especially when the love interest has to save them.”
Well again, this is partly a matter of cultural processing. First off, you aren’t processing the help Harry gets, including by females, because of male default. By my memory, Harry is quite powerful, but also very vulnerable in many ways and gets his ass saved repeatedly — by Murphy, his fairy godmother, other males and females, vampires, Bob, etc. In fact, some readers are not happy that Harry has gotten more powerful in the series and needs help less than in earlier books. Susan in the end does not trust Harry to protect her or their child and she turns out to be right. Likewise, Jim has Isaac be powerful and learning more about his powers — able to pull out a laser gun, etc. But Lena is more physically powerful and kick-ass and saves him repeatedly. He can’t do what he needs to do without her help. Yet, you probably didn’t have a problem with that if you read it. You might have even claimed that Isaac didn’t really need Lena’s help much. Because we assume, by default, that males with powers don’t really need help. We excuse away any “womanish” behavior (which is just behavior and has no real gender,) on the grounds that the men are not only powerful, but masculine.
But with women with powers, who save others and are in turn saved by others, the standards applied are different. Getting helped by others, including powerful males, is then womanish and is more noticed and counted against the female, who gets points detracted any time she does not act in a way that is stereotypical uber-male. In many female protagonist series, the woman turns out to be an incredibly powerful, unique, critical figure (just like with the guys) and it is her actions that save the day or set in motion important events. And yet, these characters are often not considered “kick-ass” enough, especially if they do not have a black leather, uber-masculine personality and martial arts skills.
Harry can get saved by a woman he has sex with and it won’t count against him. Another male character may not be particularly good at physical fighting, but if he’s the protagonist and has some powers, that may not get held against him. You have trouble identifying with a female protagonist and pov because you don’t admire females or want to be one, and so you are using a different set of standards — they have to overcome more restrictions in order to be considered. It’s because you’ve been able to read lots and lots of male protagonist books because males are the default setting. The female is the Other and thus, suspicious, uncomfortable.
Whereas I, as a female, didn’t get to demand in the fiction I was assigned at school and encouraged to read elsewhere that they only be female protagonists because I wanted to pretend to be them. I had to read the male pov, sympathize with it, accept it as the voice in my head for the stories because men were the default. There is no woman writer who is not intimately familiar with the male pov thereby. And who does not understand that the majority of readers, male and female, value the male pov as more worthy in society and worth considering, that the female pov is not wanted and if tolerated, needs to be as close to a man’s as possible and meet very stringent requirements even to be given a try. Because kids don’t grow up getting two viewpoints on a regular basis and certainly not with the belief that the two are both equally worthy. Again, it’s changing, but it’s slow. And it has a lot to do with how women are viewed to supposed to be by the society, rather than the many different ways that women actually are, and with how much that is valued. A blog article that I really like on this topic is YA author Maureen Johnson’s “Sell the Girls”: http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/09/22/sell-the-girls/
It’s just something to think about. You should read what you want to read, but if you liked the Kate Daniels’ series, consider whatever that author recommends elsewhere. (She knows a lot of other good female authors, I’m sure. And so does Jim.) Look for series where they say the female protagonist is a kick ass ninja of death. They are out there. And when you read them, and you hit something that bothers you, think about whether it would be bothering you if it was happening to Harry, just for fun. 🙂
March 1, 2013 @ 5:36 pm
Looking at my entries here, they are so long. Thanks, Jim, for letting me blather. And thanks to LaserWraith for being a good sport and listening.
March 1, 2013 @ 9:01 pm
KatG, your comments here are so fabulous that they should be cut and pasted EVERYWHERE books are sold or discussed.
March 2, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
Again, I love reading your replies – thank you.
I get what you are saying about those biases, most of which I didn’t realize I have. Your explanations cast into doubt many of my thoughts about different novels. 🙂
It still seem like male characters often have more powerful abilities, and seem to use their powers more effectively. Atticus in the Iron Druid series has some major druidic abilities, Harry Dresden gets increasingly greater power, John Taylor in the Nightside has a power that just about trump’s everyone else’s, Alex Verus has many options with his power of foresight, Eddie Drood’s armor can stop about anything, Quaeryt in the Imager Portfolio series is one of the only ones with very strong Imager power (not real UF, but I just was reading the latest), etc.
But Abby’s power in Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye books seems so limited, October Daye has no backbone and is very inept (not only in a fight, but in being a detective in general), Harper in Greywalker can only just “see” magical things and can’t do much about them, Nikki Glass has the power to have very accurate aim but just lugs around a backpack with some rocks in it (when she needs a gun, she has to rummage around in it), Janet Begay the Stormwalker’s magic only works in a storm, Tessa Gray in Infernal Devices doesn’t have much power at all, etc.
I know measuring romantic content is difficult because some of the same things from a female POV seem more “romantic” than if it was a male POV, but measuring powers and abilities seems more objective.
I’m not trying to say that all female UF books don’t have main characters with strong useful powers, but either there are less of them than in male UF, or I have very bad luck in picking female UF books (and I tend to weed out books who summaries mention no special abilities).
Some people may be thinking I’m very limited in my reading, if I only pick urban fantasy books that have a main character with strong magical powers. I actually read more diverse things – military fiction, science fiction (one of my favorite military sci-fi series is Honor Harrington, with a female protag), and fantasy in medieval settings. Not to mention non-fiction books.
Usually I desire only 3 things from my fiction:
1. One main POV. I prefer this, but enjoy books with multiple POVs as well. Once they get beyond 3, though, I start to get impatient for my favorite view points.
2. The main character is near the top of the food chain. In fantasy, this often means having a strong power. In military sci-fi, having an officer position in a fleet or something. In military fiction, knowing how to use a gun better than most (and other weapons), or being a great spy, or having good leadership abilities.
3. Focus on the plot. Previously I would complain about female books having more romance, but now I’ll try to see if my biases are getting in the way.
If anyone wants to recommend some female UF to me that I might enjoy, feel free. I’m on an audiobook listening spree, so having a good audiobook edition is always a plus for a novel.
March 3, 2013 @ 8:12 pm
Yes, Atticus does have very strong abilities, and yet keeps getting dumped on his ass not infrequently and most of the female goddesses are stronger than him and he has to do what they say and make bargains with them. He also has a pack of werewolves, a dog familiar and many others who help him and sometimes save his butt. (You remember you mentioning that as a problem with the ladies? 🙂 )So again, it is a bit a matter of perception. Harry’s powers do increase, but so do numerous female heroines — again, the protagonists in a lot of series tend to be people who find out that they are unique in various ways, tap into increasing, incredible powers and become critical for everyone, allies or enemies — or sometimes having a magic item such as a sword that does the equivalent. In the Allie Beckstrom series, in the first book, she’s finding out that she is able to use magic in unusual ways and is being marked by it — but she’s not adept at it to start and there is a soul mate romantic relationship which is major in the first book, so maybe not one for you. Likewise, Anita Blake gets a bigger increase in powers than Harry — she’s the equivalent of a goddess in the series at this point — but the magic system in that one is based on love and sex and is erotica past the first few books, so not one for you either.
But ones you might try if you have not already are first off Kelley Armstrong. Her Otherworld universe has multiple protagonists, both male and female, to the books. They vary in the amount of romantic content and power of the protagonist, depending on the sub-series, so you’d have to shop. But they have a lot of hard action in them. Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series features, like Harry and Atticus, a witch whose abilities increase into other types of magic and it turns out she learns that she’s fairly unique and powerful. She also has a team that helps her — like Harry and Atticus — and there are varying degrees of romance depending on the book installment. Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series is one that might work for you. Her protagonist Spider is powerful and grows more powerful. There is romance and sex in the books, but a fair amount of action also — they are gangster thrillers essentially. (Books about assassins or spies, male or female, will usually be in the ballpark of what you like.) Series I haven’t read yet but which might interest are Jeanne C. Stein’s Anna Strong series, Jennieve Frost’s Night Huntress series, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series and Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days series. They all have some romance underplotting, but I don’t know how much. Series in worlds where demons and the Devil are principle things may lean to the erotic so may not be ideal with female protagonists for you. (Also, if you found October annoying but didn’t mind Seanan McGuire’s writing, she’s got a SF duology coming out in her alter ego as Mira Grant in which the female main character is actually a parasitic wasp.)There is a ton coming out from the boys and the girls, so keep eyes open and look for male recommendations, I would guess. If one man can tolerate it, chances are another can. 🙂
March 4, 2013 @ 4:29 pm
I’m a bit late to this conversation, but in case you pop in again, here’s another observation about your criteria for enjoyable fiction:
2. The main character is near the top of the food chain.
Something you might want to be aware of is that a character who has any kind of marginalized identity is going to be at the bottom of that particular power dynamic, by definition. So women characters have to navigate a sexist society, LGB characters have to navigate a homophobic society, characters of color have to navigate a racist society, etc. (Unless the author has posited a society where prejudice mysteriously has disappeared….)
I imagine that part of your interest in powerful characters is that you enjoy indulging in a power fantasy. (So do I!) You might want to consider the possibility that exploring the way that marginalized characters experience power could expand your own understand of what it means to be powerful. Women protagonists in fantasy novels might also help you understand better the obstacles that women in reality have to deal with on a daily basis.
Over the past two years, I’ve deliberately sought out fantasy novels with protagonists who aren’t white, heterosexual, wealthy, and able-bodied. I’ve found it’s enriched the quality of my reading immensely. Not only do power dynamics play out differently when the storytellers aren’t the ones at the top of the food chain, but marginalized voices have fundamentally different stories to tell. It’s becoming clear to me the extent to which “generic” fantasy isn’t generic at all but rather a version of fantasy that’s very specific to the privileged class of white, hetero, affluent, educated, able-bodied, cis-gendered men. And that’s a version that I’ve read so many hundreds of times that it’s gotten a bit stale. Seeking out marginalized voices has actually reinvigorated my interest in reading speculative fiction by all kinds of authors (even the white dudes!) simply by giving me new ways of thinking about fantasy and sci-fi.
March 4, 2013 @ 4:35 pm
Actually, not so much. “Male” and “female” almost certainly do not mean what you think they do, because most people are really woefully ignorant of how complicated the biology of sex differentiation is.
Even without delving into transgender, agender, and non-binary gender as concepts, there are people who are chromosomally XX or intersex who have penises. (Also people who are chromosomally XY or intersex who have vaginas.)