Jenny's Library

Double Standard of Content Work.

Posted on: June 20, 2014

Jon Wallace wants us to know that his depiction of Starvie, a female character in his new book, who happens to be a “Pleasure Model….created to do nothing more than have a perfect appearance,” is not at all insulting to women. And that even so, he “promise[s] there are more Real women characters coming [in the following books].”

Isn’t that nice of him?  I think that’s sweet of Jon Wallace to promise us that. So, to return the favor, I’m going to make a promise as well:

I promise to never read any of his books. Ever.

And I extend that promise to any other author who ever says anything similar.

There is so much bullshit and creepiness in Wallace’s recent guest post for Civilian Reader that I could write an entire series of blog posts about it if I wanted to.  But that bit at the end stuck in my mind the most.  Which, is really saying something, I assure you.

Yesterday I spent far too much of my time arguing with boys who just really needed me to understand how hard it was to make the effort to find books by women that are worth reading.

“Funny,” I thought this morning as I read Wallace’s post, “I wasn’t aware that men often ran into women writing novels about male sexbots.  And then writing entire essays full of bullshit excuses as to why this isn’t insulting to half the population on earth.”

I mean here I was, figuring you could pick up just about any random novel and expect to find at least two male characters. With names. Who talk to each other about something other than women and children.  And who aren’t sexbots. Even when it was written by a woman.

Silly me. What was I thinking.

It’s interesting how little women’s work is valued, especially compared to men’s. Where “interesting” means I can’t decide between rolling my eyes AND BURNING EVERYTHING TO THE GROUND.

It’s an attitude that permeates every part of conversations about women’s writing. Not just the writing itself, and how people talk about women’s writing, but every. single. part. Even the work that readers and reviewers do, when they happen to be female.  The work that we do when we try to explain why Wallace words are, yes, quite insulting.

Because of course male reviewers taking the time to send a quick email to request books from publishers that are written by women is “an extra step and extra time.”  But women READING AN ENTIRE SERIES is expected if we want to dare express an opinion on the sexism that’s evident in the basic premise of the thing.

Women are expected to give male authors chance after chance, despite how exhausting AND DEEPLY UNFUN it is to read books that demean our entire gender. Not to mention how they  CREEP US THE FUCK OUT and the emotional work that’s required to deal with that.

We are feminist killjoys when we bring this up.

(Or we are told to go back to Romance, as if the creepiness is inherent in the genre, rather than a result of sexism.)

But men can say:

“[I]f…I’m trying to decide between which of two books I want to read[,] one by a dude, one by a woman, should I select the women-authored book only because it is written by a woman?”

…and still expect to be taken seriously.  As if this scenario makes any sense.  As if it doesn’t rest on the premise that the default is gender binary and male.  As if this isn’t sleight of hand used to deny that people already choose to read certain books over others just because they are written by (straight, white) men and the rest aren’t.  As if it does anything but highlight the fact that some men can’t conceive of reading books by women without envisioning men – themselves – as losing something by making that choice. As if they can’t imagine choosing to read a book by a woman for any reason other than charity.

After all, who would want to do that? Reading is supposed to be fun.

Meanwhile, Wallace “promise[s] there are more Real women characters coming [in the following books].”  We just need to hang in there and give him a chance until then.

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9 Responses to "Double Standard of Content Work."

“I promise to never read any of his books. Ever.”

so let me get this straight: You’ve not read the book, but you are choosing to be offended by the content of a book you’ve NEVER read?

Wow, that’s not even judging a book by its cover…. That’s just kind of wilfully ignorant of you.

Heck, as described, the book doesn’t sound all that different then the brilliantly written Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross, which is about a sex robot.

“And I extend that promise to any other author who ever says anything similar.”

Yeah, because god forbid you read something before you judge the material.

“I wasn’t aware that men often ran into women writing novels about male sexbots.”

Sure they do, in fact its the basis of an entire genre of fiction: Urban fantasy…. Because what is a sex robot other than an sexually attractive empty vessel awaiting you to project your sexually fantasy into? An isn’t that the functional definition of every urban fantasy male romantic lead ever?

What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

“It’s interesting how little women’s work is valued, especially compared to men’s.”

The gender of the writer has nothing to do with how much the work is valued…. There isn’t some secret cabal of men sitting around announcing “we must value this poorly written tripe by a man, and we must NOT value this earth shattering work written by a woman, because penis.”

That’s not how it works.

“It’s an attitude that permeates every part of conversations about women’s writing.”

Sure does, but only because the only people who talk about “womens writing” are individuals such as yourself when you want to try to prove there is systemic sexism in the publishing industry. The rest of us don’t talk about WOMEN’S writing at all, instead we just talk about the writing we enjoyed & the writing we DID NOT enjoy. The authors gender never comes in to it.

So I suppose if you want it NOT to permeate the conversation the answer would be for you to stop talking about it like it were a real topic.

“There is so much bullshit and creepiness in Wallace’s recent guest post for Civilian Reader that I could write an entire series of blog posts about it if I wanted to.”

No I don’t think you could, since so far in this huge spiel you’ve actually not written a single word on the topic. Instead you appear to be writing ABOUT writing an entire series of blog posts about it. You’ve yet to actually write about ANYTHING he actually said: in fact the only positive assertion you’ve made is that you refuse to read the book which is your own choice, but that’s all you’ve really said.

The rest of your spiel was just you getting your rationalisation hamster running around in its little exercise wheel as you froth yourself up into a self righteous rage that has nothing to do with what he actually wrote, or the contents of the book you haven’t yet read.

“But women READING AN ENTIRE SERIES is expected if we want to dare express an opinion on the sexism that’s evident in the basic premise of the thing.”

Except that that’s not the initial premise of the book: It was simply one aspect of the book that you’ve chosen to take out of context to the book you haven’t read & now refuse to read, lest you have to accept that it might actually be a good book.

“Women are expected to give male authors chance after chance, despite how exhausting AND DEEPLY UNFUN it is to read books that demean our entire gender.”

What books? This is a single book, a book you’ve not read, that you have no way of knowing demeans anybody. An then you take that to make a wide sweeping generalisation about fiction, based on speaking for an entire gender, whole 51% of the entire planet, including the illiterate & people who can’t read the book due to not speaking English.

You really do have your rationalisation hamster in overdrive.

An I’m telling you this not as one of the “boys” you’ve been deriding, but as a fellow female science fiction reader & writer. I’ve never needed protection from reading materials in the past, nor am I offended by the idea of a sexy robot as a character: In fact I plan on getting this book specifically because it sounds like Saturns Children & I enjoyed that book.

So do me a favour: Stop speaking for me & for all the other women whose views you do not represent. You are A woman, you are not ALL women & your views represent only your personal opinion, so stop trying to add gravitas or weight to your baseless complaining by attempting to speak for all women, because you don’t.

First of all, I don’t “choose” to be offended by things, that’s not how that works. That’s up there with “if you just ignore the bullies, they’ll go away.”

Secondly, I’m choosing to not read an author’s books based on his own words about them. And his own words about the choices he made when writing the books. How in the world is that worse than judging a book by cover art picked by a marketing department? What exactly are you proposing here? That I read books in order to decide if I want to read them? That I ignore what authors say when they are book talking their own books? (How would that work, exactly?) Even things that I won’t enjoy? That I find boring and insulting? (For what reason, exactly?) Because I’m pretty sure I just wrote an entire post addressing that idea.

(And that’s all without noting the fact that I obviously mean for my own pledge to be taken only as seriously as I take his. Make of that what you will.)

As for speaking for other women, my “we”s are clearly meant to reference not all women ever, but women who do the actions I mention. If you don’t do them, I’m not talking about you, yes?

Except of course, when I’m talking about the things that other people expect us to to do, often simply because we are women. Such as when people (oh, like…you!) seem to think that all people? women? should choose to read books based on a particular set of rules they’ve dictated. Rather than my own, what with it being my time, money, and choice and all.

Last, but not least: yes, it is books. PLURAL. He only has one out now, but it’s meant to be part of a series. As he himself stated quite clearly in the parts of his post that I quoted in mine. Just as it’s quite clear that I was reacting to his comments about the entire series, and his comments? joke? about expecting readers to wait for decent content, when I made my pledge. So, wtf? Reading comprehension fail much? Did you read my post? at all? The links? any of them?

[…] Jenny Gadget wonders why female readers and reviewers are expected to put up with books by (male) au…. The post is a response to this post by debut SF writer Jon Wallace talking about writing “real women” who just happen to be sexbots (no joke) and this debate at Tor.com where some male book bloggers and reviewers go on about how hard it is to find books by women, when publishers mainly send them books by men and they’d rather read books by men, too. Now I have zero problems finding interesting books by women to read, especially since a lot of the dude-written and dude-focussed stuff doesn’t appeal to me. Writers of colour and QILTBAG writers require somewhat more effort, but again it’s not that difficult, if you’re willing to do the work. […]

Kelly’s second comment has been put back in moderation because people who accuse me of lying or acting in bad faith, with no proof and for no apparent reason other than the fact that it supports their worldview, don’t get to have their insults hosted on my site.

I think that is more than fair, given the overwhelming condescension in Kelly’s comment.

I found the Wallace piece…special, to say the least.

heh. yes.

Regarding Kelly’s comment, it wasn’t so much the condescension (although that didn’t help) as it was her outright disagreeing (in the unpublished comment) with my statement that I didn’t choose to be offended – which isn’t really something you can disagree with, exactly. Unless you want to call me a liar.

I don’t engage with people who call me a liar, particularly without evidence. I don’t see the point.

(and now I’m pondering whether I need an actual comment policy. I think I’m going to stay at “wait and see” for a while)

This reminds me of the Jessica Rabbit line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” But that was played for laughs, whereas Wallace wants to be taken seriously and praised for being edgy. Worse yet, this dreck was published by Gollancz — a publishing house that, somehow, like the boys in your Tor thread, cannot find books by women good enough to publish.

I hadn’t heard of Wallace or this book until a review of it by Christopher Priest popped up on metafilter, and after that, yeah, not really all that interested in it.
It is amazing how people think that the world is fair and that we can chose to just be open-minded without examining the social and historical prejudices of whatever culture we are born into and grow up in.

I’m not sure that you and I would define open-minded in quite the same way, but I agree that context matters. 🙂

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