the Little Red Reviewer

Am I a traitor or a hypocrite?

Posted on: August 22, 2011

Am I a traitor to my gender?

Congrats to Connie Willis for winning the Hugo. She’s a “new to me” author, and I have her Doomsday Book at home but haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet.

if you are easily offended, you may want to skip this post. seriously, dangerous waters are ahead. to the point where I’m tempted to leave this up for 24 hours, and then take it down and deny it ever existed.

I’m not kidding, you might be really offended. don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It seems like only yesterday I was reading blog posts left and right about how we don’t have enough female scifi and fantasy authors. We don’t have enough women editing, writing, or winning awards for scifi and fantasy, and that’s a travesty. There are scifi/fantasy reading clubs and challenges that focus on female writers, and discussions that go round and round nearly into their own Klein bottles about how SF/F fans are obligated to read female authors or books with strong female protagonists.

you know what? it is a tragedy that women historically haven’t had the opportunities that men have. hate to say it, but that’s been going on for a really, really, really, really long time. We are not the first generation to be talking about gender (in)equality. I’m thankful to the strong willed women who paved the way for me to vote, have a career, have family planning options, to have the same rights as anyone else to pursue a life of happyness. I ain’t knockin’ it. I’m just on a soapbox is all. If we were the first generation to be having this discussion, I hope I’d be one of those suffragettes.

Here’s the kicker tho – is “going out of my way” to read female authors just polite Affirmative Action (shit, am I even allowed to say the pc/un-pc A-squared word?)? When making a decision to read something should I think about the gender of the author before or instead of the quality of the work? i don’t give a shit who or what the author is or isn’t, I just want to read good books. I almost wish authors names weren’t on book covers, or that everyone went by just their initials, so casual readers wouldn’t know if an author was a man or a woman. In fact, I know a handful of authors who do go by their initials for just that reason.

I’m starting to feel like a traitor to my gender because I don’t go “out of my way” to read female authors or books with strong female protagonists. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Hobb and Kushner and Tepper and Beukes and Valente, but if I’m trying to decide between two books to read and one happens to be by a woman and the other happens to be by a man, the thought “I should read this one because it’s by a woman” never pops into my head. Ever. (I’m short, red headed and Jewish, should I go out of my way to read books by people under 5’4”, or are ginger, or are Jewish? don’t they deserve equality too?)

Is there gross gender inequality issues across the globe? Yes, and that fucking sucks. All kinds of discrimination and inequality suck donkey balls. And reading is my escape from all my worldly worries. I leave all that reality suckage behind to get lost in a good book.

Quick slightly off topic story: A homosexual acquaintance of mine was trying to get a feel for my politics before referring to his partner as anything other than his “roommate”. I knew what was going on right away, and beat him to the punch by telling him that I don’t care what’s in someone’s pants, I just want people to find love and happiness.

it’s the same with authors. I’m not knocking book clubs or blogs or articles that focus on books by one gender or another, it’s simply that I don’t give a shit what the author’s (or anyone else’s) plumbing is.

Maybe I am a traitor to my gender. it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been called a self-hating fill-in-the-blank.

Do I read female writers? yup. do I read male writers? yup. do I read characters of any race, religion, sexual preference, homeworld, fur quotient, or preference for live food? You bet, so long as the book is good.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. This whole post feels a little like coming out of the closet. and I’ve never been one to do what society expects of me.

Now, near the end of getting this off my chest, I feel like a total hypocrite, because I’ve read incredible, mind blowing unbelievably written books (and the occasional shitty book) by both genders starring protaganists of one gender or the other that are magnificent, inspiring, and pure wonderful (or on the other hand, flat, boring, or just plain crappy). In a sense, I can easily say that I’ve enjoyed the taste of what I’ve been maybe railing against through this entire post.  I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum, but the judgement is always, always, on quality of work, not who it came from. if you are part of a book club or blog, or whatever, that focuses on one thing or the other, more power to ya.  just make sure you are reading good stuff, and please don’t be offended if I don’t join you.

So you tell me: am I a traitor? am I a hypocrite? both? neither? does it matter?

 

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26 Responses to "Am I a traitor or a hypocrite?"

Nope, none of the above. And I don’t think there’s any need to remove this post in a day either. :-)

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Hey girlie:) You’re not a traitor. It wasn’t until my 20’s that I opened myself up to female authors (and I’m a girl). All of my faves were male, and it really just didn’t occur to me. Kind of like music. I’ve always liked male singers more, although that’s changed in recent years. For the past 15 or so years, I’ll read anything that looks good, whether it’s written by a man or a woman. I think anyone that seeks out books just because they’re written by their own gender is missing out on lots of good stuff. Also, folks should think about giving different genres a chance. If you try it and hate it, fine, but good writing is good writing, and sometimes you can surprise yourself!

Very insightful post, and I completely get where you’re coming from.

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I agree with this. I would read any book as long as it interests me. Male vs female author never comes to mind. Would I like to see more female authors in fantasy genre? yes. Would I go out of my way to look for them? No.
Of course, had someone been sabotaging chances of female authors in this genre, I would’ve felt differently. But no one is.
A good book has nothing to do with author’s genre. Period.
I didn’t even know Robin Hobb was a female til I looked her up after enjoying her Assasin’s books.

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I’m with Moses…don’t remove the post!

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I think I could go on about this topic, but I’ll keep it brief: 1) Like the previous commenters, I think you should definitely keep this post up! 2) I agree wholeheartedly that you shouldn’t read a SFF book by a female author for the sake of some faux-equality silliness. I also don’t bother worrying about the gender of the author…I grew up reading great SFF books by both.

…Sort of lost my train if thought. You rock, keep it up! :-)

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i love you guys. :D

and now i feel like i was freaking out over nothing. but it did feel really good to get all that off my chest.

still, I do feel that there is unintentional pressure to represent the home team.

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I kind of see where you’re coming from, although I’m one of those who does get myself tangled in all kinds of knots with the equality thing. The problem I have is that books written by men are perceived as being written for everyone, yet books written by women are perceived as being written for women.

Ask most casual readers of SF what the first recognisable SF novel is and they’ll mention Verne, Wells or even Doyle; very few would mention Mary Shelley, even though her novels preceded the other authors mentioned. It’s the marginalisation of women’s writing that bothers me.

Quotas are a poor solution, which only entrench the views of the contrarian or the (knowingly or unknowingly) chauvinistic. I believe far more in strongly advocating for novels written by women. Telling people they’re a lousy person for not reading books by female authors only puts them on the defensive, whereas attempting to show them the brilliance they’re missing out on by proclaiming that brilliance from the rooftops when I find it might, hopefully, convince someone to read more widely.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but telling me I should read something because I’m a bad person if I don’t, puts my back up. Telling me to read something because it’s a wonderful novel gets me interested.

PS. This is my first comment here (I’m @FunkyScarecrow on twitter)… Hello!

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Try looking at it the other way: had you looked at the gender first and then quietly tucked the work away as something secondary, would you be less sexist? The answer, of course, is a resounding no. It would diminish the author’s accomplishment and suggest that gender is more important than character, quality or skill, which is exactly what sexism is.

To me, it’s when you follow that particular line of reasoning that this becomes harmful. When gender matters more than the actual work, then it’s a problem. When people avoid works by men, it’s a problem. When people judge works by women on a different scale, it’s a problem. The fact that fantasy readership is still composed of a lot of people who believe that women are the cause of a lot of literary ills (like that NY Times piece or the stupid nihilist fantasy garbage) is a problem.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s a problem that we accept that women can write good and bad books just like men or martians or anyone can. Works are defined by their works, not the genders of their authors.

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Definitely thought-provoking. :) I’m with everyone else — keep the post up!

When I think about my own reading preferences, I read just as many books by women as by men. For me, it’s all about good writing, good storytelling, etc — and I agree with what you said about wishing the authors would just have initials. What I do find jarring at times are books where the main character is a women, and the author of the book is a man — there’s always something somewhere in the story that’s a bit off, making me say, “I would never do that/say that… etc.”

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I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that attitude at all nor is there any reason to remove this post later. I made a personal choice to read more women authors a few years ago myself, but that’s mainly because I found I hadn’t been hearing about that many at the time and didn’t know that many of the ones out there. So I wanted to remedy that and find out more about women authors writing SFF.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with genuinely not caring what gender an author is when picking books to read, though. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read more books by women because you feel a lot are overlooked. It’s also fine to not really care who is writing the books you read and just seek out good books regardless of the author’s gender. The only attitude that bothers me in the gender argument is when I actually see someone saying “I won’t read books written by women” (or vice versa, but I haven’t actually seen anyone say that one before).

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I wouldn’t even consider taking this down, especially as it is refreshing to hear a female say this because I have felt it was too dangerous of territory to wade into on my site.

I don’t begrudge people challenging themselves to read more works written by women or about women, or by or about homosexuals, or by or about African Americans, or by or about people from other countries, etc. If you are doing it in the spirit of wanting to expand your horizons then I am all for it. Unfortunately some people are take this on as some kind of mission and equate it to the fights for equality that women, minorities, etc. have had to go through. It is not that at all. It is reading, which is a form of entertainment. It can be much more than that but at the end of the day reading for me is about a choice to be entertained by a book.

I never go out of my way to read an author because he is a male or she is a female or what have you. I don’t care. I just want to read good stories. If female writers or non-white writers are getting the shaft because good old boy politics are still in the works with publishing houses then that is complete crap and I’m sorry to see it and am happy to fight against it.

But what I won’t do is choose to set aside a book by a male writer that I am dying to read because of any pressure to read more books by female authors. I also won’t set aside a book by a female author because someone tells me that this book over here by a male author is better. I want to read what attracts me and that has never been driven by the sex or the sexual orientation of the author in question.

If Connie Willis winning these prestigious genre awards spotlights the fantastic contributions of female authors I think that is great. On the other hand I find it potentially sad. She should be able to stand up and take her accolades simply for herself and those who supported her in making the book happen. She shouldn’t have to shoulder the weight of decades of gender inequality. Neither should anyone else with their choices of how to be entertained.

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Great post — don’t you dare take it down!

Of course you’re not being a hypocrite or traitor. Aren’t we supposed to be striving for a meritocracy, where race, gender, age, etc has no bearing on our judgments of quality?

In a way, it would be really interesting to read books blinded to author such that you couldn’t form a pre-impression even if you wanted to — I wonder how many of the greats would continue to be greats and how many unknowns (or barely knowns) would shine?

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I think you’ve nailed it. I always hate those threads that start up in forums about this same topic. It’s never mattered to me. Few authors will ever be able to beat Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for me and I’m a guy. Whoaa what? Oh, yeah, it really doesn’t matter at all. Great work is great work. Thanks for posting this.

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I don’t think you’re a hypocrite and don’t think you should take the post down. I don’t look at gender either when selecting books. I go by what seems interesting or entertaining and don’t factor gender into deciding what to read next.

I’m a little confused though by how you prefaced the post. I hope you’re not implying that Connie Willis won the Hugo just because she’s a woman? Because Blackout/All Clear is a big, ambitious, gripping story, and I really think it deserves the recognition.

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I don’t think you’re any of those things. :)
I read because I need to and I need to read good books. I don’t really care who wrote them, I usually just care if there is more if it was good.
The only time I take into account the gender of the writer is when it turns out that they depicted a character of opposite sex (than theirs) with perfection (I feel then that is a sign of a truly good author so I pay attention).

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i think the only time i take note of the gender of an author, is if i’ve loved the book i’ve just finished and am keen to add another ‘to follow’ author to my masterlist ;)
the fact that you’re not consciously selecting male from female authors when you’re hunting for a good read – only goes to show how fair and unbiased you’re being!
Good story is good story & readers that screen their choices for any reason are bound to miss out on a piece of offered greatness.
Blog on!

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To me I really do not care if they are white, African American, pink or purple as well as male or female. As long as it is a good read that is what matters in my thoughts.

Little Red, no you are not doing a hypocrite as all. You read books that sound like that you or I may enjoy. I agree with Carl V. reading it a form of entertainment and it is not a quest to read all SFF book buy a female or in my case a male author. I do think that a person work should defined by their work not by what piece anatomy the write may or not have.
Great post sure make one think if they do favor a particular gender or not.

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I am exactly the same way. I do love lots of fantasy authors like Sara Douglass and Robin Hobb, but I don’t go out of my way to read any particularly gender. I want to read a good book.

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Yes, authors should just put their initials. I do subconsciously read more books by female authors, There was an interesting discussion about whether or not a reader can figure out if the writer is a female or male based on writing style (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/quiz/2011/jun/02/naipaul-test-author-s-sex-quiz)…

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I read mainly books written by men. It’s not really by choice, but because most of the books that interest me are written by men. I don’t see that as something to be proud of or upset by. It’s just what interests me.

Having said that, I have tried to read more books that are outside my culture. So, I’ve gone out of my way to read Karen Lord and Nnedi Okorafor and Lauren Beukes, so that I can see and experience things that are different than what I’m used to.

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There has been a historical under-representation of women writers in the SFF genres, and it’s great that they’re now more mainstream and considered for and winning major awards – up until recently about the only female winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel was Lois McMaster Bujold (I exaggerate, but not much). In fact, one of the interesting things about this year’s Hugo shortlist was that only one of the novels shortlisted in the Best Novel category was by a man. I don’t believe that this was because women’s novels weren’t as good, but was probably for a number of different reasons, some of which may have been good old sexism.

I agree that the only criterion should be quality, but I do think that one shouldn’t restrict one’s reading to a standard comfort zone all the time.

Nice post.

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I think you have a very reasonable point of view, and it isn’t offensive at all. I completely agree with you, though I am participating in some of those “Women in SF/F” reading challenges you mentioned. I want to specify that I (and probably others) am not doing it because I feel compelled to support the sisterhood. I was just excited by the chance to discuss books with people online, and a lot of the authors in the challenges were unfamiliar to me. So, in a sense, I am currently going out of my way to read female authors, but I’m doing it for reasons entirely unrelated to gender.

On a rather unrelated note, I really liked “Doomsday Book”, though I think Connie Willis’s style of writing might be an acquired taste. I hope you enjoy it!

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I’ve never paid attention to my authors’ genders. In retrospect, I’ve found that a lot of my favorites are women, but that’s hardly been through conscious effort on my part.

While supporting female writers is all well and good – I don’t think I’m ever going to read a book strictly based on the author’s gender. Like you, my criteria is quality, so if the book looks like my cup of tea, I’ll read it, and if I really like it, I’ll buy it – regardless of who wrote it.

Good post! :)

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Like everyone else is saying, I wouldn’t worry about it. In all honesty the majority of my favorite authors are men, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m sexist or in any way biased. That being said I also adore Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey – so I suppose that might redeem me a little. I can honestly say I have never once decided to read a book because the author was, or wasn’t female. And honestly – choosing a book because the author IS female is technically just as sexist as not reading it for the same reason. It’s just a different side of the same coin.

I say we all keep reading the books we love and the best authors will come out on top regardless of gender. :)

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I really like your post here. A few years ago a friend called me a Literary Misogynist because I read almost exclusively male authors. Recently, I have made a goal of reading at least one novel a month by a female author, not because I really feel you should judge a book by the gender of it’s author, but just because I always believe in expanding your horizons. Luckily for me there has been a lot of great zombie novels this year written by female authors. I will always read more male than female, especially but I am glad to give my reading more balance.

All that aside, people should be reading no matter what the author is, does or votes for. If a book appeals to you, read it. Yet, if you find yourself in a rut, try something a little different.

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Nothing of the sort! I don’t care about the gender of the author, only the story.

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