What is it we’re to make of the disparity in the VIDA counts? And what is it we’re to make of the numbers of women appearing in the NBA more frequently?
It’s not the women who “have made steady progress.”
At first glance it may seem empowering for women, a largely marginalized group in publishing, to lay claim to a genre. But the trifecta of “By women, for women, about women” implies that women only want to read and write certain types of books, and that books “about” women only belong in one genre, something we all know (or should know, from personal experience if nothing else) isn’t true. Instead of empowering female readers and writers, the tag instead underscores—perhaps even reinforces to some—their marginalized position. Also, it makes romance novels sound super-boring.
I don’t know how many times I’ve come across a historical novel where the author makes the assumption that women of the past were of course less “liberated” than contemporary women and therefore always followed the rules and never did anything on their own. Yeah, those women who fought for and eventually won the right to vote—such shrinking violets.
There’s plenty of evidence (not to mention common sense) to dispute those assumptions; but possibly the most effective refutation can be found in classic novels from centuries past, wherein female characters ARE independent and get shit done.
The VIDA survey pointed out that the NYRB kind of sucks at gender balance. The NYRB’s response was…not so good. Kit Steinkellner presents the response they should have written.
As much as adults claim that we live in a hypersexualized world — another argument made against books like Anderson’s or Alexie’s — it is the adults themselves perpetuating hypersexuality. Using labels like “child pornography” and comparisons to Fifty Shades in relation to books that are about rape and books that bring up masturbation respectively does precisely this. No matter how safe or healthy or important YA books that tackle issues relating to sexuality may be, that’s never the discourse. Instead, the discourse is how teens are growing up in a world that profits off their budding sexuality and sells it to them constantly.
It’s never about how books like Anderson’s offer safe and healthy and vital stories about what happens when someone is raped and silenced. It’s never about how those scenes in Alexie’s book show the true experiences of teen boys like Junior are normal and simply what boys (and girls!) do when they’re teenagers.
Alexie’s book isn’t even about sex. It’s not about masturbation. It’s about racism and growing up in a world that doesn’t accept you with the skin color or the ethnic heritage you have.
It’s hypersexualization to call it Fifty Shades for kids.
As a feminist, I’ve found it hard to enjoy Game of Thrones publicly at times. “What about all the rape? The gratuitous nudity?” Part of life in Martin’s world, friends. Just like it’s part of life in ours. All the brutality we don’t associate with how we live contrasts sharply with how things really are just below the surface. We live in a world in which: eight-year-old girls wear makeup and suggestive clothing; rape victims hesitate to report the crime because they don’t want to relive it in the courtroom, essentially feeling as though they themselves are on trial; women’s rights, pay, and power are not equal to men’s; girls are taught not to get raped, rather than boys being taught not to rape, but also to be pretty objects of male sexual desire. I don’t want to get political, as feminism is not a strictly political mindset, but we live in a society that is broken. And I haven’t even touched on race or sexuality.
Did he do it on purpose? I am sure the answer is no. Ok, so why are we still talking about this? Because a book can be good, but that doesn’t make it flawless. Because science fiction as a genre is highly prone to gender representation problems. Because the default cast has been 90% male for so long. Because feminism is really about equality, and it’s worth noticing the stories that fail. We as readers and writers can note that this is, in fact, disproportionate representation. That women are interesting characters, who probably have lots of interesting conversations about things other than the men in their lives. And that we want to read about them.
Starkey’s use of “chick lit’ obscures his real complaint, which is with the authors’ lack of Y chromosomes. He’s not ranting about C.J. Sansom’s version of Henry, or Ford Madox Ford’s Anne of Cleves. He has a problem with girls moving into his sandbox, and he’s said so explicitly in the past.