I thought I was pretty clued up on feminism.
…I belong to a writers’ group which recently perused the opening 10,000 words of a novella I’ve written called ‘Invent-10n’. It’s a near-future story that features a rather feisty twenty-year-old singer with a penchant for jive talk called Jenni-Fur. I thought I’d rendered her as a tough, take-no-prisoners sort of rebel but it seemed that some of her dialogue offended the two female members of the group.
Using the argot of 2030s Britain, Jenni-Fur described herself as ‘a lush thrush with a tight tush’, which was thought to be both unrealistic and borderline ‘pornographic’.
[H]ere we are again: sexual harassment, SFWA, marginalizing of women writers, the VIDA count…women in genre is the issue of the day. And what is happening at Jo Fletcher Books and with Rod Rees is, in my opinion, nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the outrage and frustration that so many women in this field are feeling.
The month of June 2013 saw sexism (and bigotry in several forms) bubble to the surface of the SFF genre conversation. Not fictional sexism, but the real-life kind: the Resnick/Malzburg dialogues (liberal fascism! censorship!) were followed by repugnant white supremacist and ex-SFWA presidential candidate Vox Day’s vile rhetorical attack on award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. And then we were faced with the news that Elise Matthesen had made the first formal report against Tor editor James Frenkel, long rumoured to be a man with whom one should avoid getting into an elevator.
I am fed up by the level of sexism and racism in our community and am increasingly of the opinion that remaining silent on the matter provides aid and comfort to those who don’t deserve it.
Though the column argues that Rees is a good writer of female characters, nothing in it bolsters that claim.
– Sherwood Smith (Inda, Coronets and Steel) and writing partner Rachel Manija Brown (All the Fishes Come Home to Roost).
Rees’ article comes at a time when the attitudes of men (and of women) in the SFF community towards women, and particularly the attitudes of male writers and editors, have been highlighted, and not to their advantage.
Nor to ours. Regressive attitudes and willful ignorance make communities unwelcoming and unsafe. And it is not to anyone’s advantage to let harassment, belittlement, and lack of empathy proliferate unchallenged.
And Rees is one of the willfully ignorant, unable or unwilling to make the leap of empathy to seeing women as whole human beings, courageous and persevering in all kinds of adversity, capable of life and hope and change in even the most restricted of circumstances. Rees, you see, sees certain periods of history and certain places as antithetical to women: by which I can only conclude he means in direct and unequivocal opposition to the existence of female-bodied persons.
For example when you put female characters in settings (especially historical ones) which are antithetical to women it becomes difficult to shape a character which is sympathetic to that setting without violating… feminist norms.
– Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.
Rees goes on to imply that women are unsuited to writing “visceral” fiction for adults.
It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres. Could it be that the success of female writers in YA fantasy fiction is in part attributable to their young female characters being better able to adhere to this [the “feminist”] template of the ideal female? Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype [of an active woman with agency] doesn’t work and hence struggle.
So. Women should stick to writing for children, because it’s less challenging, is that the implication? Less visceral? Rees has obviously never read Elizabeth Wein or Scott Westerfeld.
Karen Healey (The Shattering, When We Wake) finds YA fiction, “as visceral as it gets – racism, suicide, sexuality, love, death, grief and joy are not topics marked ADULTS ONLY,” and pointed out the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson and Sheri L. Smith as treating with particularly visceral events and themes.
According to Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon, Unspoken), people are far more likely to hold female characters to impossible standards – “and that’s a product of sexism. Generalising or denigrating YA, a genre which has a lot of female writers and a lot of female protagonists, tends to be a product of sexism as well.”
Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown say they find so many things wrong with Rees’ piece that they don’t have time to call out every single one – but the thing that leaps out at them most, they say, is his claim that women are too smart to be “foolishly” brave. “The actual implication is that an entire segment of human experience and motivation is solely male. In short, he is saying that only men are heroic.”
Charles Stross disagrees with everything Rod Rees says about writing across gender. “Rod Rees’ world view, as he expresses it, appears to be so heavily informed by black and white stereotypes that there is no room in it for shades of grey. All men are ‘this’, all women are ‘that’. All behavior is dictated by assigned gender roles, and gender roles are deterministically nailed to the physical sex of the protagonist. (He also seems unable to distinguish between biological sex and performative gender.)” He adds, “For a lot of men the social conditioning to treat women as different is so strong that they can’t recognize the essential points of similarity that exist: they’re effectively unable to look beyond the gender gap.”
Men with this problem, Stross says, don’t relate to women as people, but rather as either aliens or objects. “Theory of mind, the ability to project consciousness and intentionality on them and model them as ordinary people doesn’t seem to pertain… [and] men who don’t see women as people feel free to chastise women who behave in a manner incompatible with their preconceptions.”
The takeaway from all this is that Rees is, at best, clueless; at worst, deliberately trolling.
But what about Jo Fletcher Books?