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Entries by tag: women

Why I started #Womentoread

So, yesterday I decided to indulge in another round of that intermittent habit, poking the internet with a stick, by starting a hashtag -- #womentoread -- over on Twitter. I asked people to recommend sff by women. The response was astonishing: I'd hoped that some of my friends would pick it up, but... One of the very first to do so was seanan_mcguire (Thank you, Seanan!) and it just took off. All afternoon (my timezone) and well into the evening, people were naming their favourites, exchanging names and recommendations and ideas. It was huge fun and the enthusiasm and engagement and excitement was just wonderful. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who joined in and help this happen. Towards the end of the day (my time) writer Harry Connolly (burger_eater) gave me the idea of capitalising on all this momentum by linking it to a series of blogposts about specific women writers and post links to these pieces on twitter using the hashtag. (You can read Harry's article here.) I've written about women writers whose work I love before, of course, but the problem has been that relatively few people saw them -- mainly my existing social circle and readers. And that is a key issue for many women writers: underexposure. But the hashtag, as I said, has some momentum, so this seems like an opportunity to try and raise the profile of writing by women and to address that underexposure to some degree.
But why now, exactly. I've done something like this before (last year with the fantasy by women thing). That's part of it. I am an activist to my bones: it's coded into me to try and *do* something when I see an injustice. And I know far too many really great women writers who are underrated, under-reviewed, under-recognised. I see male writers praised for doing things in books which women did before them, which women are doing as well as them -- but the women are ignored and sidelined. It is a fact that books by women are reviewed less frequently than books by men, and that prestigious review locales pay less attention to women than men.
This year's review survey came out two days ago. During the day, my twitter feed was full of men -- many of them high-profile and influential -- decrying the under-representation of women writers in reviews (and I am very glad to see them recognising this and commenting on it) but immediately going back to talking about, promoting and praising works by other men. Last week, jemck found ourselves in a major branch of a major UK book-chain in Oxford and noticed a promo table for fantasy. We're both fantasy authors, we took a look. The theme was clearly 'If you like George R R Martin, try this". It was a table about 4 foot x 4 foot square, piled high with fantasy. Great.
Except... all but three of the writers represented were men. And of the remaining 3 -- the women -- two were not epic fantasy writers but established Big Name Bestsellers -- Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and the books by them on that table were both sf. That's fine. I love sf by women. But those two books -- The Host and The Hunger Games weren't there because they were 'like' A Game of Thrones; they were there because they're already bestsellers in a related field. The other women present was an epic fantasy author and a good one -- Robin Hobb. Who has a gender-neutral name.
I'm not saying the men on that table aren't good: there were some excellent books there, by excellent writers. There were also books by men I've never heard of, which are quite probably also excellent books. But the overall impression was 'This is A Man's World'. Jules and I started making a list of who was *not* on that table, of women who are epic fantasy writers and published in the UK.

Kate Elliott
Judith Tarr
Freda Warrington
Gail Z Martin
Trudy Canavan
Karen Miller/K E Mills
Glenda Larke
Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Gaie Sebold
Juliet E McKenna
Tanith Lee
Amanda Downum

That was in about a minute. Now, you can argue, very reasonably, that some of those women are out-of-print here (but you might like to think about how they came to fall out of print in this context, given that contracts depend on sales, sales depend on exposure -- and women do not get the exposure).
A table that censored women from a genre.
A twitter feed that decried a wrong -- and then went back to the male default
I saw red. At some point on the 22nd April, I asked, rather wistfully, if we could declare the next day -- yesterday -- promote women writers day. I got two responses, both from women, saying, yes, lets, and so...
I did.
You can see some of the responses and recommendations here. You can find more by going to twitter and hunting for the hashtag #womentoread.
You can share the idea. You can write a review of a book by a woman. You can blog about a woman writer you admire. You can post a list of links to the websites of women writers you love. It doesn't have to be ep;ic fantasy or even sff. It can be any genre. And then, please, go to twitter and tweet that link with the #womentoread hashtag. If you're not on twitter, post the link here in the comments and I will tweet it for you.
This isn't about me. I know how it can look, I'm a fantasy writer. But really, it isn't. This is about all those fantastic women writers whose books I've treasured for years, about Tanith Lee and Evangeline Walton, Judith Tarr and Kate Elliott, Anne Gay, Storm Constantine, Sherwood Smith, Rumer Godden, Juliet McKenna, Barabar Michaels, Elizabeth Goudge, Liz WIlliams, Dion Fortune, Sheila Gilluly, R A McAvoy, Barbara Hambly, Leah Bobet, Sarah Monette, Justina Robson, Amanda Downum, Claudia J Edwards, Sharan Newman, Freda Warrington, Stephanie Saulter, Lisanne Norman, Jaine Fenn... I could go on and one and on. Some of those writers are long-established, some are out of print and out of contract, some are new, some are dead. But they are all great.
And me? Later today I'll be blogging here and on my website about a woman whose books were a lightning bolt to my writing world, Nancy Springer.

PS: another interesting piece on the gender imbalance in reviews here


I'm going to regret this...

Sexual harassment is never acceptable. By anyone, of anyone. That is, for me, the bottom line. I've been on the receiving end of it on and off for most of my life. In my earliest memory, I was about 12 and a boy from my class walked past me in the school corridor and grabbed my crotch. Nobody said anything to him. Nobody said anything to me. It was just a thing that boys did. Ever since then, from time to time I've been randomly groped, grabbed, handled and commented on, backed into corners, stared at in ways that made me scared or uncomfortable, and generally treated as a object several times every year. Some of this happens in public -- on the street. Some of it happens in private spaces. Some of it happens within fandom, some not. Sometimes it happens at work. It is, sadly, part of my life. It's part of the life of every woman I know.

The worst incidents... The two scariest (the man who pushed me into his car in a country where I knew only one person, who was not there and where I did not speak the language, the group of young men who crowded into the phone box I was using and starting threatening me) happened out there in the real world. But I've had a fair number of incidents in fannish spaces, too. Most recently, a man I had never seen before in my life managed to make me very uncomfortable in a lift at Chicon 3. No, I don't know who he was. I was trying not to look back at him. I was trying not to give him an opening to move even closer or to try and start a conversation. I am, you need to know at this point, 50. This is 38 years and counting of intermittent harassment.

But here's a thing. These men (and twice, women) have come from all sorts of backgrounds and places, they have been older than me and younger. The man who forced me into his car was probably in his 60s. The one who followed me all over a con despite the continuous presence of the marquis and kept trying to get me to go off alone with him was probably no older than 21. I've been groped by strangers who were as strange to everyone else present as they were to me, and people 'everyone knows'. The behaviour -- touching, hassling, harassing, demanding attention, demanding a piece of me -- is not unique to any age group, any social group, any background.

Sometimes, I've had help when this happens. The people who help come from all backgrounds, age groups, social groups, too. The person who rescued me from one of the scariest things that's happened to me within fandom was someone who is a serial conrunner and possibly a Big Name Fan. I've been helped by friends and fellow fans, by strangers, by fellow writers, by officials (thank you, the porters of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, for rescuing me and my friend C from the man who was following us).

I am a serial volunteer at conventions (and I've been involved in the running of several small cons and one big one, though I am not a SMOF) and a lot of the hassle I've got has been when I was working. There is, sadly, a subset of convention attendees who forget that volunteers are people, too, and who become entitled, demanding and sometimes abusive, because volunteers are there for their convenience, and no other reason. Some congoers, frankly, treat the con staff as servants, and not servants they respect, either. (Yes, there are rude volunteers, too. Yes, some of them can be mean to congoers.) Volunteers are often in the front line when it comes to dealing with abuse. Female volunteers are particularly vulnerable. People with a grudge, a grouse, people looking for someone to manipulate often target the women who are working as a first move, because, culturally, we in the UK expect women to put up and shut up. And if we talk back, we're more likely to be told off for it, too.

I could draw various conclusions from this, most of them blindingly obvious -- I get more hassle when I'm alone or with one or two other women of around my own age than when with a larger group or with the marquis; some people think that having spoken to me once when I'm doing something official (like working in Green Room, which I do compulsively and have done since 1989, I think) means they know me and can follow me everywhere. I get more hassle at cons where I know fewer people (though as a side note, US cons are worse than Canadian or European ones for this. I do not have a theory as to why). When I look at the women I know, and the incidents I know about, though, there are two things overall that emerges about harassment at cons.

1) Any woman can be harassed, but women who are newer to the environment, or working at the convention are more vulnerable because they are more often either alone or with people they don't know well, and are more obliged to talk to strangers.

2) Anyone can be an harasser. ANYONE. It's not unique to older people or younger ones, to BNFs or walk-ins.

The most recent prominent incident that the sff community has been discussing involved one man who is prominent in fandom and two women. A BNF, a writer and someone who volunteers at conventions. Last year, at World Fantasy Con in San Diego, a man who seems to have been new to the sff community serially harassed and groped a number of women, some writers, some not. The year before, also at WFC, the harasser was an individual in a position of power in the professional world. All of these incidents are appalling.

And this is the bit I'm going to regret.

This isn't just something done to women by SMOFS. Editors do it. Writers do it. New fans do it. Established fans do it. People who are staying in the same hotel and are not anything to do with the convention do it. Other people say stupid things about it, because they don't want to think their friends can do bad things. But this is not just about SMOFs, or older fans, or conrunners. This is not a behaviour that can be attributed neatly to only one group and suppressed. I repeat.

Anyone can be an harasser.

And that includes me and you and everyone we know.

La femme celte

I'm blogging today about the myth of the Celtic Woman, over on Charles Stross' blog, for those who are interested. Comments are down there, at present, due to spambots, but you can comment here, if you're interested.

Skirt of the day: red and gold silk wrap.
I'm not a huge fan of sport, apart from tennis, and I'm more than capable of ignoring major sporting events while they're on. I'm also not at all a fan of competitions based on nationality, because to me, it seems they encourage all the worst forms of nationalism, jingoism and stupidity. In some cases, they fan conflict and hatred. There was a discussion of the skills and physical talents needed by sprinters last night on the BBC that I found disturbing, creepy and offensive, because it bordered on racial stereotyping, this time with 'genetics' as an excuse. I am going to write to them about this.

However, my mother came to stay with us last weekend, and she does like to watch the Olympics. So, while she was here, we spent a fair amount of time doing so, particularly track and field, which are her favourites. And I noticed something.

I'm feeling better than I have in years about my body. I'm not particularly fit, I'm not fashionably thin, I'm not pretty. But for the last week or so, I've felt at home in this too-tall, not-thing-enough, not-toned enough, not-young enough (all my usual mantras) body. It *works*. My legs can run -- not fast, but they do it happily. I can bend and reach, twist, turn and shape, I can pick up things and move them and make them, and it's all good. I feel normal.

It's down to all those fantastic women who I see using their talented bodies on the television, all those runners and shot-putters, tennis players, rowers, weight lifters, swimmers, riders, boxers, discus and hammer throwers. They are tall and short, they have broad shoulders or wide hips, they are large and small, they have long legs and short legs, square faces, round ones, oval ones. They're all different. Most of them are un-made up, they show me their everyday faces. The ones who are made-up (with the exception of the gymnasts, who are the sole ones who worry me) are clearly doing so for their own reasons and amusements. They have long hair and short. They are of all races. But what they have in common is that they live openly, unashamedly (as far as I can tell) in their bodies. They aren't airbrushed or photo-shopped, dressed to 'hide figure faults' or posed for specific angles. They just are. And I'm loving it. I love all these bold, brave, talented, *real* women. They make me proud of them, of their skill and talent and courage. They make me happy to have a female body, even though mine is nowhere near as fit, as young. They make me feel that I'm normal, because variety is normal.

I want them on my screen every day, because I love this feeling. I know that in a few weeks it will be back to ideals and horrors -- perfect women and 'failed' ones who are too big, too plain, too old, not good enough. That depresses me. I want younger women than me to see the variety of other women, to see women who love who they are, women who are clearly talented and gifted and wonderful without the trailing back-stories that tv drama demands. I want us all to feel that it's all right to be us, in all our sizes and races, ages and shapes. Thank you, Ye Shiwen, Tirunesh DiBaba, Shelly-Ann Fraser Price, Jessica Ennis, Shara Proctor, Nicola Adams, Gabrielle Douglas, Sanya Richards-Ross, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, Joanna Rowsell, Zhou Lulu, and all your sister athletes. You are making the world a happier place for other women.
And I'm really looking forward to the paralympics and even more awesome women.

Skirt of the day: green silk wrap.

Rape in fiction: a rant

So I'm supposed to be fixing typos in Death and the Madwoman and I have No Time and, and, and...
But I am sick unto death of this notion that, in order to be 'helpful' or proper or decent or supportive to women, SFF Must Not Mention Rape.
Go and read it.
Okay? Read it?
I am mad as fire. Here's why
I understand where this idea comes from, I really do. There are far too many books out there where a rape is used lazily, slightly, harmfully, as a way of indicating villainy. There are far too many which use rape as a back-story, to explain and justify why a female character is strong or vengeful. Women, in our culture, aren't supposed to be tough or violent, there has to be a *reason*. Strong women are unnatural, odd, wrong, and thus we justify. And rape is an easy shorthand.
Let's be clear. Rape used this way: as a plot device, to excuse or prop up bad writing, lazy writing, poor characterisation, pandering to cultural discomfort -- is damaging and inappropriate. It's playing into rape culture, it dehumanises and exploits.
Let's be very clear. There is more than one way of writing about rape. And rape, however much we don't like it, is part of our daily cultural experience. It's real, it affects real people, men, women and children. It matters.
Calls for rape to be banished from fiction are no help whatsoever. When we remove rape from our writing, we silence women. When we say 'writing about this isn't helpful', we tell women that their experience must not be spoken off, must not be shared, must not be made public, must be discussed. When we banish rape from fiction, we banish female reality. When we banish rape from fiction, we silence women, tell them that what has happened, might happen to them is too shocking to mention, too shameful, too dirty and bad and wrong.
We uphold patriarchy. We uphold doctrines of shaming and blaming. We uphold male right to dominate public discourse. We uphold the status quo.
Rape must be talked about and written about. It must be discussed and debated and depicted. Women, in particular, must be allowed to write about what rape means, what it does, how it affects us, changes us, trammels and traps and frightens as shames us. Women must be allowed to write about rape, because rape is real.
Sometimes, what we write about rape makes uncomfortable reading. kateelliott's King's Dragon is a case in point. It's very hard to read about how a rape can reshape a woman's life. And that is what kateelliott does in that book. She puts the reader in that space and makes them think it through. She makes us live it. The rape is not an excuse or a justification, used to explain female 'abnormality'. It's about real experience.
We don't want to think about it, we don't want it to be true. And yet is *is* true, it does happen, globally, to millions. The easy option -- the option that makes us feel comfortable -- is to label things that make us uncomfortable as wrong and to forbid them.
There are different ways to write about rape. And, as I said above, using rape lazily, in place of thought and care and decent characterisation, is damaging and trivialising and unhelpful. But writing about rape with thought, with care, with attention to the very real experiences of very real women and men is the opposite.
Writing mindfully about rape is essential. If we don't write, we deny it altogether, we collude in rape culture, which undermines and denies female experience daily, which silences women daily, which props up, fosters and supports those who rape daily.
I don't care if reading about rape makes some people, male and female uncomfortable, when it's done well. It should do that. That's the point. Such writing is there to make us aware, to make us think, to make us confront the nasty areas of our culture, ourselves.
And, you know, when I see a man recommending that rape be banished from fiction, I don't see an ally, though I know he probably means to be such. I don't see someone who wants to help me. I see someone who doesn't want to be made uncomfortable and who has found what looks like a fix based on his lack of knowledge and experience. I see someone who wants women to make him feel safe. I see someone telling women what to write, what to think, what to feel.
I see yet another attempt to silence me, to silence my female friends and relative, to silence women on this subject which affects every single one of us, everyday.
I want to live in a world where my sever-year-old niece never, ever in her life has to say what I have heard myself say over and over: "I'm lucky. I've never been raped." It should not be a question of luck. It should be basic, it should be assumed. Rape should be unthinkable.
It isn't. It's everywhere.
And when we banish it from our books, we help keep it there.

ETA: Ian and I have discussed this elsewhere, and he has made it clear that he didn't intend to be silencing, and that he was not trying to lay down rules. Rather, he was targeting unthinking writing, that reaches for the easy option without contextualising or care or respect. And he's right to do that. I'd like to thank him for his patience with my short fuse.

You are what you wear?

fjm has sensible things to say about clothing here. Go, read, join in.


Sexual harassment.

jimhines has some important things to say here about sexual harassment. Go and read. I'll still be here.

It looks, I know, as if this is a subject some of us keep banging on about. It's a subject I know I rant about, and people's eyes glaze over and they turn away. But the thing is, I rant because this is a big deal, a big problem, and it isn't going away. I've been going to sf conventions since I was 13. I had my first brush with unwanted male attention at a con when I was 15. (Outside a convention? I was 12.) The last time I experienced harassment was last August, from a drunk in a pub. Being female all too often means being treated as if you are in some ways public property every time you step outside your front door (and sometimes before then, too). It never lets up. How you move, look, speak, stand, breathe, dress: it all comes in for attention. And it can be all but impossible to get others to listen to your concerns, let alone do something about it.
Jim is one of the good guys. There are a lot of you out there, I know. It takes men and women together to deal with this stuff. Speak out, speak up: it's a sad fact of our culture that men are listened to more than women. So use it.
And to my female friends, we're in this together. I've got your back.

Women in Afghanistan.

First of all, please take the time to go here and write to your M.P. about Women's RIghts in Afghanistan, which are under threat as the west looks to make peace with the Taliban. We started that war: walking away now in the name of peace, but leaving women to pay the cost would be deeply unprincipled. No peace process should be begun that ignores or elides the dangers they face.


A Room of One's Own

The GCSE results are out today. And once again, the voices of alarm can be heard bellowing across the swamps of government and media. There's the usual number fretting over standards, but by far the most are concerned with the attainment gap between boys and girls. 'Worrying'; 'something must be done'. If you are 16 and female and have done well today, the message you're getting from society is far from the congratulations you deserve. Instead, you're hearing that there's something wrong, something dangerous, something somehow improper about your achievement.

Young women have heard this every year since equal opportunities in education became law in the UK. If you took your formal exams later than 1972 and you're female, you set your first foot on the educational attainment ladder onto a rung marked 'not for you'. Your mothers and grandmothers, older sisters and cousins fought and suffered to win these rights, but they are not honoured, any more than you. Our so-called equal society continues to panic and preach if men do not always come first. Centuries of male domination -- of preferential treatment and access for males -- were not questioned, but give young women even an approximation of a level playing field, and the war horns ring. The voices on the radio and in newspapers, on tv and in government -- mainly male -- urge new initiative, changes in class-room practices, stronger measures, all aimed at making sure boys do better. No-one thanks the teachers who are helping girls progress, no-one celebrates the young women who are succeeding.

I think they're brilliant, all these young women with their new qualifications. I think they deserve far better from us than this male-centric panic. They deserve everything they have achieved and they deserve us to celebrate them. Well done to every one of them, and may they climb higher and shine in all their future endeavours.

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