Tags: professional good girl

Goth marquise

But seriously...

So, I have a question for my female friends and female-presenting non-binary friends.
For those of us who present as 'feminine' in the more traditional sense (can be having longer hair, wearing skirts or other 'girly' clothing, being soft-spoken and so forth): do you find people are more ready to question your knowledge than they do that of women who are seen as less 'girly' in presentation? It was noticeable in my last academic jobs that my female colleagues with short hair who dressed in suits tended to be taken more seriously than the rest of us, and were less likely to be asked to undertake extra admin jobs and to do emotional caretaking.
I'd be interested in hearing the experiences of others about this.

Skirt of the day: Blue-tiered the 2nd (as distinct from the beloved, much worn, fragile blue tiered the first.)

On political agenda in sff (and other fiction)

So, over on twitter, I have a personal hashtag of #redwriter. I use it for those moments when I'm explicitly talking about my socialism, and sometimes when I realise that something in whatever I'm working on is bouncing off that. I do it, because I am of the age and type that agrees with the slogan 'Politics is life.' And it keeps me thinking, which matters to me. I want to be mindful, in my work, in my words, in my actions, in my life. I fail all the time -- I did so earlier this morning. But I try.

And I'm following the debates about politics in books, and whether they 'belong' and the calls for 'just good stories' and so on, and, well.... Politics is life. We are soaked in them, we are created by them. As with gender and race and class and ability and sexuality, our political assumptions and the political assumptions that we grew up with help to shape and form who we are, our way of being, our expectations, our interpretations. Which means that there cannot be such a thing as a politics-free book. Every decision the writer makes in their work -- who the protagonist is, what the latter wants and approves, the nature of the threat or problem they face, the types of backgrounds depicted, who is left out -- all of those are marked by the author's own expectations and experiences. We all do it. Most of the time we don't even notice. But as a result, how a book plays for different readers depends on how close those readers' experiences and expectations are to those of a writer. 'Just a good story, no politics' is not a simply a call for books to be entertaining. It's a call for books to make specific readers comfortable. But all readers are different: we all have different levels of comfort and familiarity. The easier it is for you to find a book that mirrors your experience -- a 'politics-free' book -- the chances are, the closer you are to the hegemonic centre of society.

None of this is new: people have been saying this for years, usually in response to other people complaining about politics 'spoiling' books. People who are highly privileged are most likely to complain if they meet something that's not comfortable, not because they are necessarily bad people, but because they're used to seeing themselves at the centre of everything, and they're startled. People who are less privileged, less central to social norms are used to reading about characters and ideas and foods and places that they don't recognise, because mainstream books tend to reflect mainstream expectations.

It takes work to notice this, especially if you're one of the privileged. We don't notice things that to us are 'normal' and we expect what we read to reflect that. When we write, we often write to our internalised norms without noticing it. I can see that everywhere in my own writing. I'm a feminist and a socialist, but most of the characters in my first book are rich and powerful. The plot is mainly driven by the male characters, and the three main characters are all men. I made a conscious decision that most of the characters were not white, but I did not, in my own opinion, do anything like enough work to back that up, and I failed. Thew female characters have a lot of political and social power, but at least three of them are self-sacrificing, placing duty and the welfare of others above their own needs and survival. My internalised misogyny was speaking: women cannot succeed without sacrifice, pain and loss. I worked harder of breaking out of misogyny and Euro-centrism in my second book. I made a conscious effort to depict foods and traditions, landscapes and buildings and ways of organisation that were not just versions of what I grew up with. And I still didn't succeed. I really struggled to write Aude as a person with agency: inner training steered me towards making her weaker, more dependent, more timid and diffident. I've never found a character so difficult to depict. (The twins were easy. Ferrets do what they like, regardless of gender. Writing them was hugely freeing and great fun.) But I'm sure there are many places in the book where I failed, because I am marked by my culture, I am trained and shaped by it and it infects everything I do.

We can always find excuses for defaulting to our norms. Let's take an explicitly political book that is also a good fun read -- and often marketed as a children's book -- Watership Down. I love WD; I read it when it first came out (I was 12 or 13) and it was a big part of my teens. It's an adventure with rabbit heroes. It's also an analysis of different political systems and their good and bad points. Richard Adams comes down on the side of a sort of democratic anarchy, with a charismatic leader setting the tone. He set out consciously to write a political novel.

And yet, his assumptions and training show through. The characters are nearly all male, and such female characters who are present are weaker, more anxious, less able to act with agency -- and presented as potential mates. The rabbits are monotheists. Male leadership is assumed as natural. Threats come from outside, not within. Creatures who are not like you are dangerous. Now, most of this is based on the fact that the characters are rabbits. It's natural for rabbits to fear predators, for instance, and wandering bands of young rabbits tend to be male. But at the same time, Adams -- and the scholars whose work he used -- were affected by their social training when they wrote and researched. Humans live in a society in which behaviour is heavily gendered. It feels natural. So when we look at other species, we assume they do the same. Yet more and more research is now questioning this -- researchers have broken the bonds of their social conditioning -- and finding that in fact, many species do not express gendered social behaviour in the ways humans do. I don't know explicitly what has been observed in rabbits since Adams wrote, but I suspect that the norms his sources detected were refracted by ingrained gender bias. And he was writing a fantasy, in which rabbits have a religion, tell stories, invent political systems. He could have made some of the active central characters female. He didn't. He was comfortable with his own status quo. And he had the excuse, if needed, of 'Oh, but the book I read said...' That books said stranger danger and few women; it did not say religion, but he included the latter anyway. He made an unconscious political choice, just as I did with how I depicted Yvelliane and Iareth and Firomelle in Living With Ghosts.

And here's another thing. Of all my characters, Iareth is the one closest to me. That drive she has to do her duty, come what may, and the problems it causes her, is mine. One of the hardest scenes for me to write in that book was the one where she agrees to stay with Valdarrien. All my instincts -- and thus hers -- were screaming at me that she must not, that it was not Good Behaviour. The first time I wrote it, she said 'No' to him despite the plot. I had to argue with myself for two days before I could rewrite it. And I still think that, had he lived, she would have left him again, in a few months or years, because of that iron sense of duty. That's my own internalised female guilt, right there. I am not supposed to put my own wishes at the centre of my life, because good girls live for others. Like Yvelliane. Like Firomelle. Not at all like Aude, who I struggle to write.

What about 'non-political' books; books in which our personal cultural comfort zone is the default? Let's take Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, another book I read and reread, and loved as a teen. There is no over political agenda in the book: it's the story of a young woman having adventures, finding love and saving the world. At 14, it was the best book ever for me, because it was a fantasy (my favourite type of book) with a female lead who was always right. Usually female heroes are corrected by men several times in a book, but Lessa talks back all the time, does what she wants -- and the men climb down. It was wonderfully liberating. And yet.... Though the role of Weyrwoman is important, Lessa is a Unique Heroine. She is explicitly different to all the other women around her, she is special. And there can be only one of her (6 by the end of the book). Her life is very, very unusual. Everyone else important in the book is male: the other female characters are minor, unimportant and occupy gendered space: wives, servants and sluts. The political structure assumes male leadership -- and aristocratic, born-to-rule leadership at that -- and the solution to the poverty, suffering or distress of the 'common people' is not more agency in their lives, but having a better Lord (or Weyrleader). Bad lords are overthrown by good lords. Everyone is white, and the trappings of their culture reflect that. The book normalises and even romanticises sexual violence, to the point that it's almost unnoticeable. (When in the sequel F'Nor rapes Brekke, I noticed, and I was never entirely happy with their love story, but I accepted that to Brekke the rape was minor, even good, because the writer said so.) As far as I know, the only agenda McCaffrey had when she wrote Dragonflight was to put a women at the centre (just the one). But the other things are there, because they were part of her cultural norm.

All books are political. All books have agenda, conscious or not. Because we are all products of our cultures, and those cultures show.

Skirt of the day: blue cotton parachute (in non-parachute mode).


My inner idiot got a workout yesterday. Ho hum. I went into town to do various jobs, but when I parked in my usual car park, I discovered that although I had the right amount for the fee, the spanking new ticket machines didn't take £2 coins, so I couldn't pay, which meant leaving and finding space elsewhere. I was reversing out when a speedy type in a red fiesta came roaring in behind me, right into where I was about to turn, so I turned tighter and reversed neatly into another parked car. My fault: I should have been much more alert, and worrying about fiesta man is not an excuse. The net result was a dent in the other car, a split in my rear bumper and me feeling like a total waste of space. (I do not handle failure of perfection in myself at all well. I may be obsessive about my good-girlness.) Anyway, I left a note with my phone number on the other car, and went off to do chores in fear and self-loathing, and feeling very shaky. At this point I was anticipating Huge Drama, major financial disaster and all things dire, because, as we know, I am great at catastrophising.
I was lucky: the other driver turns out to be a delightful gentleman, who phoned me for insurance details and was not in the least angry or unkind, and on whom I wish lifelong blessings. The insurance people were nice about it, too. This is my first real claim in 20 years, and I've never hit anyone before, so maybe they could afford to be nice. (And I have a protected no claims bonus, so I won't be facing a huge hike in insurance costs, hopefully.) And the car is fine, just a bit chewed about the bumper (the other car is likewise only slightly dented: this was a 5 mph or less collision).
I still feel like an idiot, though. Years of practice tell me to turn this into yet another example of the universe rounding on me for getting above myself. I'm resisting. The universe has much better things to do, for a start. And things do happen. All the same... stupid girl.
Anyway, the upshot seems to be that having gone out to buy new luggage (my old bag fell apart), I also came home with yet another skirt. It's short and green. It has a pattern of butterflies and herons and deer on it. Way cute. It will be going with me to World Fantasy Con next week, oh yes.
Skirt of the day: blue panelled.

Tremble, gibber, panic

Just did my tax return. I think it's right. Now all I have to do is send it in, assuming I can find my online filing details.
The marquis held my hand. He made me create a spreadsheet.
I am so not good at things involving numbers. (Useless writer is useless, sigh.)
Goes away and shivers, possibly with beer.

Skirt of the day: lilac, was petticoat under Gudrun blue dress.

Here's a question for the hive mind

So, one of the things I have trouble with, sometimes, is believing that I exist. (Yes, I know. That sounds stupid. But it's how I am.) There's a piece of me that finds it reasonably clear the the external world is real, but not that I am. Certain things/events/behaviours make me wonder if I am, in fact, just a fiction.
The marquis, on the other hand, is pretty sure he exists, but isn't always so sure about the external world.
What about you lot out there? Do you believe you're real? If so, why and how? Conversely, do you believe that the external world is real, and if so, why and how?
(I believe in the external world because that's clearly where all the power and control and entitlement comes from, and where all the important things are.)

Silly Rules

It's a new year. Happy New Year, people.
I don't do resolutions -- the marquis made me give them up a while back as I am too good at frighteningly punitive ones. But, having said that, and with his permission, I have made one for this year.
I'm giving up paying attention to silly rules acquired from other people.
What, you may ask? Let me explain.
I have a silly rule. It goes like this: 'If I ruled the world, nobody over the age of 10 would be allowed to appear in public wearing shorts (short pants, for the USians) unless they are exercising/playing sport/on the way to or from doing same.' I don't like shorts, I find them aesthetically ugly. I don't wear them. My characters don't wear them. In my world, nobody would wear them, except as outlined above.
I occasionally express this thought, and other people laugh at me or express disagreement. As far as I know, no-one has every felt that they should obey this rule just because I expressed it. (If there is anyone out there who avoids wearing shorts at me, however, then thank you! It's not necessary, but it is appreciated.) I don't expect other people to obey it, I have to say (even if I wish they would. But that's my problem).
Everyone has silly rules, things they don't like or wish others wouldn't do. Most people ignore these.
I don't. I am far too prone to taking stray remarks as absolutes that *must* be obeyed lest I cause terrible offence. Even if the person is not there and has probably forgotten what they said. And if I do find myself breaking one of these silly rules, I feel horribly guilty, I stop enjoying whatever it is, I feel I am a bad person.
This, frankly, is daft. I'm not talking rules around courtesy or consideration. I'm talking the 'Kari hates shorts' kind of rule. I waste time and energy fretting and feeling I should make amends even if the person in question is miles away and will never know that I read X type of book/dyed my hair X colour/wore X item.
So, as of this year, I'm resolved to stop doing this. Yes, desperance, this means I may occasionally wear blue in your presence. I know you hate blue. You know I like blue (and I know you don't mind if I wear it, because you're a grown up and you don't expect me to adopt your rules, and you think it's daft that I do). It means I will read certain subgenres without fretting (even if Y thinks it's a waste of time), enjoy cloudy weather, talk to friendly dogs, and generally let myself have my own reactions to minor things rather than feeling obliged to be a walk-on in my own head.
So there.
I also need to do some work around more serious rules, like the one that tells me that if someone else expresses a need, I must prioritise that over everything else in my life, even if to do so causes me direct damage. But that's a lot harder.... I'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, anyone want to share their silly rules? I promise to flout them.

Another meme

This one via a_d_medievalist:

The problem with LJ: we all think we are so close, but really, we know nothing about each other. So ask me something you want to know about me. Something that should be obvious, but you have no idea about. Ask away. Then post this in your LJ and find out what people don't know about you.

In other news, today I have to:
make the Christmas cake
dye my hair
clean bathrooms
do some revisions on GK
write a review
answer some of my email
Go to Waitrose

I wonder how many I'll manage? At least I'm not shattered this morning, unlike the first half of this week.

In the red corner

Well, I've done a lot of stuffTM today. As in:

sorting out the reviews column for Vector (not a small job, hampered by an attack of stupidity, in which I typed up a review that had come by post, pressed the wrong key and had to type it all over again).1
cat sorting
further sorting of reference for nice ex-student.

Conspicuously absent: writing. This evening, this evening... And I seem to have forgotten how to spell. I mean, I had to look up conspicuous. If this is due to age, then I don't like it.

Skirt of the day: black tiered long skirt.

1 Dear Reviewer, if you are going to review a book I didn't send you -- which is fine -- please could you at least include the publisher and date. Page count, price and ISBN would be nice, too. It's not always easy to track those down. No, not even using Amazon as a database.

In which R4 jumps to conclusions, and the marquise is efficient.

Dear Person who was just on R4,
I honour your intention in protecting birds by imposing a curfew on cats during the breeding season. It's a good idea.
It's been recommended by cat charities for years, for the welfare of both birds and cats. Most accidents involving cats happen in the evenings and early mornings, the same time as peak bird feeding time. My cats have had a twilight curfew since the early 90s. Not all cat owners are irresponsible or incapable of thinking of things for ourselves.
the marquise.

Words added to Grass King 1332. Ferret women have moved on from fighting cushions to biting other characters. I may be having too much fun with this, and I daresay there will be cuts later. But, y'know, book is being nice to me.

Laundry done
Cleaning done
Celts sorted again (with some pictures found)
Reference written for nice former student.
Next up: remind the marquis to buy rhubarb, for further cake.

I like being efficient. It makes me feel much more worthwhile than usual.
Skirt of the day: very favourite blue tiered long skirt that I love so much it's falling apart.