06 November 2011

So you like male writers. So what?

A writing pal of mine recently wrote that he figured he ought to read more books/short fiction by men, because he realized his shelves were mostly full of books by women. Cool, whatever.

My shelves are mostly full of books by women. They're mostly full of books by two authors: Lois McMaster Bujold's entire bibliography (including The Spirit Ring) and a sizable fraction of CJ Cherryh's bibliography. My shelves are a good 4' wide, and her books take up two of them. The only other author whose books come close to the same amount of space? Terry Pratchett. Lynn Flewelling comes in fourth place, with seven books.

That doesn't count the random selection of Literatyoor from high school or college and assorted non-fiction, nor the extensive manga collection (mostly by women, except the large Naoki Urasawa section).

Apparently, it's brave for people to say they like male authors, or that they plan to read more male authors. I disagree with another writing pal that the drive to promote women in fiction has evolved into open season on men, as if a predominately male field of writers in the past means that men writing now must all be assholes.

I didn't talk up male writer TC McCarthy's debut novel Germline, because I hate male writers and think no one should talk about them. Oh wait, I blogged about it and wrote a really positive review of it for a magazine, and I've talked it up to everybody I know who enjoys military SF.

I didn't review books by Mark Van Name, David Drake, Eric Flint, Tom Standage, or Patrick O'Brian in the last three months, either. The feminist anti-male-writer conspiracy has me silenced!

But, apparently,
This is what we’ve done, readers. We’ve allowed ourselves – as a community of writers and readers – to think that talking about women (in a positive way, of course) is right and good, but liking men leads to shady behavior.

As they say on wikipedia, [citation needed].

It is good to expand one's reading horizons. It is good to find books written by people who come from different backgrounds than you, because they often have different perspectives than you do. If you are reading books by only one type of person, you are limiting yourself. If you say that only men can write SF, and women don't belong in the SF clubhouse, you may be sexist.

No one is saying that reading books by male writers makes you a bad person prone to "shady behavior." What people are saying, and this comes up more often than it should, frankly, is that readers should expand their horizons.

Isn't expanding horizons and exploring different perspectives what science fiction's supposed to be about? Why's there such a push-back, then?

11 comments:

Justine Graykin said...

That's always the backlash when you have affirmative action -- the previously dominant group howls about reverse prejudice. Whites are being cheated out of jobs by less qualified blacks; gays are getting "special rights", male authors (straight authors, non-ethnic authors, etc.) are being shut out in the race to embrace women authors (ethnic authors, GLBT authors, etc.). Nothing new here. One's choice of reading material is personal, quirky, and requires no greater ideological justification. It's good to expand one's reading horizons beyond what one usually chooses because one might discover a new gem. And that, as far as I am concerned, is where it ends.

Cat Rambo said...

A housemate once said to me, "Oh, if only I were a disabled lesbian of color, I'd have no trouble getting my degree!" I managed not to punch him, but it was hard.

Try Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing if you want to see many of the strategies like this one laid out. It's an awesome, if infuriating, read.

Conni said...

I remember reading an article which said that, in various settings like classrooms, when girls or women participated more frequently but still up to only half the time, they were perceived (by both teachers and male students) as "dominating" the class. (My google-fu is failing me, unfortunately.)

Anything that threatens the status quo (which is that half the population, give or take, only participates up to a quarter of the time) will be pushed back against, and people will say that by promoting women/POCs/queers/etc, we're "hating" men/whites/straights/etc.

I don't get it.

Faith Van Horne said...

I must be out of the loop. I discuss books and authors fairly frequently, and I read quite a few male authors. I've never heard anyone say boo about it. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places (or rather, the right places).

Arinn Dembo said...

Some people are subconsciously (or fully consciously) uncomfortable with women getting even close to equal representation in any field. When they see female participation and visibility increasing, they immediately have a Discomfort Reaction as the subconscious mind yells "Ah! Vagina Alert! Too many women being women around here! Do something!"

Instinctively such people will knee-jerk to try and force the world back to their familiar comfort zone, reduce the number of women and the visibility of women to what their training tells them it is "supposed" to be. There are various tactics to achieve this, and the "MEN NEED MORE ATTENTION AND ARE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST" meme is just one of many. It's an instinctive defense of privilege, like all similar arguments against feminism in the modern age.

Hardly surprising, really. People of both sexes are trained from birth to instinctively expect women to be invisible--30% or less of all characters (especially active/interesting characters) on children's television and in children's fiction are female.

Science fiction is no different from any other media. We're going to have to fight for every inch of ground and then fight to keep it. We're going to have to assert ourselves and wave our arms and yell for a couple of generations until people get used to the fact that we're here and here to stay. Eventually all the people who were trained to silence us will either die of old age or they will become fully conscious of their biases and correct them.

suzanne reynolds alpert said...

I read good books, period :-) Or at least I try to.

I *tend* to read more books by women, because they are usually more interesting. However, I no problem admitting when I like books by male authors. I LOVED the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons back when I read it. And I adored the Hominids trio by Robert J. Sawyer, because I've always been an anthropology buff.

I agree with Justine--no excuses should be necessary for what we read.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, will never forgive you for reviewing my book at Bull Spec, and for tweeting about it. Ever. :)

-TC

Conni said...

@TC: ;)

I'm still waiting impatiently for Exogene to come out...

Anonymous said...

Connie: Me too!!!! :) -TC

Anonymous said...

Oops - meant Conni. Srry. -TC

Karen said...

I have been reading Sci Fi/Fantasy since the 50's and one of the first authors I came across was C. L. Moore, great stuff written by a woman back in the dark ages of womans rights. After all these years I can safely say that I just read good books and I note who writes good books. C.J. Cherryh and Fred Pohl exist happily on my book shelves at around ten books each. William Gibson and Orson Scot Card are faves along with Tanith Lee and Pat Cadigan. Anyone who reads and filters out a whole sex is going to miss A loT of good books.