The Silent Majority: Fear of Sexism is a Misogynist’s Best Friend


Like I said last week, I think part of the role of men in the discussions against sexism and misogyny is to be a signal booster — to help get the word of others out. Karina Cooper — author of the Dark Mission and St. Croix Chronicles books — said she wanted to continue the conversation about women in writing and publishing and the SFF genre, so here she is to talk more about what it means to stay silent in fights like this one:

Can I assume y’all know the history of the USA?  Can I go into this comfortable with the understanding that you’re familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s? Is that, I don’t know, a safe thing to assume?

I have to tell you, I’m just not sure. But because I’m not your mom and I’m not whatever teacher you probably ignored in school, I’ll spare you the summary. You don’t want to hear it from me, anyway. If you’re legitimately clueless, go do some reading. Yes, it’s Wikipedia—I’m not willing to strain anyone’s higher thought processes just yet.

Fast forward forty-five years. We’re still struggling with racial prejudice, but it is widely understood that a man who says, “I strongly believe darker-skinned people will lower the quality of this product” is tantamount to labeling himself the white supremacist fuckless wonder that he is. We have seen evidence of this just recently, yes?

So, that in mind: Would one of these rabid, woman-hating trollskins explain to me how “girls are making sci-fi worse” is any different? I mean, aside from the obvious, which is that one involves people with different color skin than yours and the other is naturally more inclusive, since it involves people of all color… who just happen to have vaginas.

Maybe you, dear reader, missed the memo. If you’ve been absent from the internet for the past forever, here’s a quick refresher: some people think women shouldn’t be writing “real” books, playing or designing “real games,” or speaking about anything at all. Some people, a great many outspoken people, are convinced sexism doesn’t exist.

Guess what? We have always been fighting this fight.

No Girls Allowed

For decades, women and people of color have been barred from the SF/F community due to, I don’t know, some perceived fear of cooties—or a petrifying fear of change. The people refusing them entry—primarily white men—routinely forced authors who weren’t white men to hide behind pseudonyms, behind false biographies, and refused to publish stories that attempted to feature anyone other than white men as heroes.

In the year 2013, this has not changed all that much. It’s not “PC” to bar people of color anymore, but they certainly continue to have a litany of problems going on—usually couched in more subversive terms involving “quality” and “experience.”

The issues women are having, however, seems to come straight out of the lexicon the civil rights movement deemed incorrect for public use—it’s like watching a particularly surreal episode of Mad Men, only everyone’s in jeans and on the internet. For example, in order to get any “credit” (from men, the dominating force in the literary world), women are forced to hide behind initials, or crowbarred into the romance or chicklit genres “where they belong.” They are groped by famous male colleagues, and they are ignored or jeered at on panels.

“But wait, there are all kinds of women published!” you might point out, and you’d be right. There are all kinds of women published. There are all kinds of women in the gaming field. Those who work hard are extremely well-respected, too, for—oh, wait. No, they aren’t. Really, anywhere.

You know what we ladies who are authors and gamers get? Unending amounts of shit from dickstroking mouthbreathers, an avalanche of vile abuse spewed from internet communities filled with spermslugs convinced that they are God’s gift to all who earn their attention. That they, in their tiny little worlds with their tragic lack of a loving orifice that doesn’t come shrink-wrapped in plastic, are the rightful inheritors of multi-million dollar industries—the keyholders to future generations’ creativity and imagination.

And you know what? They are right.

Despite the fact that female gamers make up 47% of the gaming community, despite the fact that women are award-winning authors, we are threatened with rape and violence if we dare to speak up about how we’re treated, by troglodytes so afraid of change that they’ll shout as loud as they possibly can just to get the rest of the world to shut up. They are so awful, so offensive, that the rest of the world looks away with a knowing, “Don’t feed the trolls.” They see the reprehensible behaviors of these soggy foreskins, say with feeling, “Aren’t you glad that’s not me?” and go about their merry days as if that takes care of that—and that, babies, is why it’s working.

Because the only way to avoid feeding the trolls is to be silent—and these trolls are growing up to run your world.

Proud and Not So Loud

If you’d be so kind, take a look at this reasonable and extremely logical post by Chris F. Holm—a fine author in his own right—and you’ll see he promotes two sound concepts. The second is the most important: be kind to one another, punctuated by a Vonnegut quote that has me calling everyone “babies” when I’m feeling philosophical. But a glance down to the comments mirrors what’s being said in Der Wendighosten’s G+ page: it’s so much better to read a book because of genre, quality, and style than it is to read a book because of gender, and so choosing a book because of gender is just another form of sexism.

Naturally, no one reading a book for quality is a bigot—you certainly can’t be blamed for any prejudice when you’re not paying any attention to the gender, color, or lifestyle of the author. And certainly, being told what and what not to read, for any reason, is anathema to cultivators of book libraries around the world.

The dialogue then becomes something like this: “Of course sexism is bad, that’s why I’m not interested in reading or acquiring books by women just because they’re women—I don’t want to be sexist!” And so the person justifying this pats themselves on the back for being an evolved being, shares some companionable nods with others like them, and lives a happy life knowing they aren’t misogynistic or prejudiced or bigoted. Which is a lovely ideal, but have you finished reading about the civil rights movement yet?

As I recall from my education in the subject, I don’t believe any of the civil rights supporters were saying things like, “Well, naturally, racial prejudice is bad, that’s why I’m not interested in showing people of color any favoritism by shopping at black-owned stores just because they’re black-owned.” In fact, I’ll wager this sort of thing was often said by white people unwilling to make the effort—or to accept the nature of equality at all.

Can you imagine how the civil rights movement would have stalled without open and deliberate support by everyone who claimed to be so open-minded?

I admire Chris a great deal, and hope to one day live the philosophy he shares, but I obviously disagree with him on various executions—primarily, that grace and dignity will see us through the unending amounts of abuse we receive. As far as I’m concerned, centuries of grace and dignity has landed women in this mess. Like my feminist forbears, it’s time to burn a few “foundation garments:” starting with the concept that the silence of good people is any support at all.

More Than a Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech was not one of waiting—though it was of dignity (okay, point for Chris). Where other revolutionaries and civil rights leaders pushed for violence, King pushed for the power and passion of speech—of “soul” force to meet overwhelming force. And he called on everyone to do it. He spoke of freedoms of color, of class, of religion.

King and the movement supporters pushed for active inclusion—standing side by side with the very same people who wanted them pushed down. He did not stop at penning dignified notes, he did not wait for the power of words to make it through the communities threatening him and those like him with violence. He gathered like-minded folks, that included the powerful voices of white supporters—political and otherwise—to help make it happen, to add their voices to his. To  bloody well say something.

Active inclusion, babies. It’s about one person—maybe you?—making the choice to pick up a book by a woman author and giving it a chance, and then treating that book like you would any other book. If you like it, pass it on with glowing recommendations—not because of how the author looks in a bathing suit, or what her genitals might be, but because it’s a good book. If you don’t like it, reasoning why, and have that discussion with your fellow readers.

It means that though you might make it a point to pick up a book because it’s written by a woman, a person of color, a man, an LGBTQ author, you’re passing it on and talking about it because it’s good. Because the author moved you. Because regardless of why you originally grabbed it, the book made you feel.

It’s about adding your voice to support women in gaming, women in writing, women anywhere—just like we would for anyone else. Because if you think this isn’t about you—if you think that I’m only talking to the sad little boys lodged in their circle jerking internet communities, convinced that “cocksucker” is an insult while desperately hoping to meet a real life woman they don’t have to threaten to rape to get some—you are sadly mistaken.

There are literally thousands of men ready and waiting to be unleashed on women like me. Men and boys who make a game of rape threats and violence, who will be spooged out of whatever black hole they dribble from, screaming that I am a threat—that I don’t deserve to live, that I should be raped into silence, that I’m just a bitch and should shut up. These are the same assholes raising boys who think it’s okay to call an eight year old girl a “cunt.”

But I know—I know—that there are thousands more of men and women who are remaining silent, because they know they aren’t among the trolls, that they’re not sexist, that they don’t want to be sexist. And because they know that, they’re content to simply be.

“Simply being” is not enough.

The Loudest Voices Shape the World

We like to look back at history and say things like, “Gandhi had it right.” We like to suggest that the best way to evoke change is to live quietly, live by example. To quote an erroneous and useless bit of drivel: “be the change you want to see in the world.” They fling this around like it’s gold and fail to remember that part of being that change is taking the opportunity to make a difference, not sit back and “not engage.” We like to think that passive protests, protests without deeds or words, are a thing of peaceful power.

We are wrong. Even Gandhi believed in refusing to bow one’s head—even at the cost of one’s life. And he wasn’t alone; or did you forget the thousands who supported him?

As long as good people are willing to remain silent—to look the other way, shrug and laugh and say, “It’s just trolls,” then people like me are forced to write things like this. As long as people are content to passively protest sexism just by not engaging in it, people like me will continue to feel unsafe at cons,  on the street, at parties and in bars, in the movie theater, and—thanks to the pervasive abuse, in our own homes. (Side note: the first person to suggest that there’s no reason to be “that hysterical” gets a goddamn boot in the back of a Volkswagen.)

In the industry I work in, I found that when authors—primarily men, but not always—thought I was a reader, they were all too happy to talk with me about various sci-fi and fantasy subjects, geek hobbies, and the like. As soon as the dreaded, “What do you do?” question cropped up, I’d answer, “Oh, I write romance!” That shut the conversation down. At the nicest, I received a very sweet(ly condescending), “That’s great, honey, good luck with that.” At the worst, a laugh and, “Oh, Christ.”

So I learned how to talk about what I write in ways that don’t use the word “romance”. I spoke of action and adventure, crazy conspiracies, love and loss, blood and murder. At least three different times, men have asked me with great interest where they could acquire my books. When they realized Avon was the publisher, I was given eerily similar versions of: “Oh, I thought it was a real book.”

I have been forced to endure painfully personal questions about my sex life, my fantasies, any regrets that I’m married to a single man and can’t really experience all that’s out there to write about it—“write what you know,” to this day, remains one of my most violent rage triggers.

You know what I don’t hear? Anyone asking George R. R. Martin if the rape sequences in Game of Thrones is based on personal experience. I don’t hear anyone credible asking John Scalzi if the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award is a real award, anyway.  I don’t hear anyone critiquing Jim C. Hines for his outfit, Neil Gaiman for his lack of makeup of hair products. No one is asking Chuck if the sex in Blackbird is a fantasy of his—or if his spouse is laying him regularly.

You know what I’m asked? If I write “aggressive men” in my books, and if that’s because I have a secret fantasy of being raped. I have been asked if I write myself into all my heroines, because I just want a man to save me—or dominate me. I’m asked if my husband supports me by helping me “block out my sex scenes”. I’m asked if he’s “okay” with me being a writer—as if it’s a personal hobby or darling quirk. One fellow laughed when he heard how crazy my deadlines can be, expressing concern that I’m not “putting out” enough for my husband to make his tolerance of my writing worth it.

You know what I’m not asked? If men can put their hands on me—which they then proceed to do. Why? Because the pervasive mentality is that men write and women “engage in a hobby.” That we’re there to “spruce up the place,” to be “token girls,” to give an appearance of inclusion without having to actually commit. I am a piece of decorative furniture, there to give the audience—comprised of men and women, because money is money, no matter the wallet it comes from—something nice to look at. “Look, ladies, here’s one of you sitting among us real authors! Guys, don’t worry about her, we won’t ask her anything too tough.”

That’s the atmosphere that needs to change. Just as Chuck is not your toy—not your “token beard” to be admired, not your manmeat waiting with bated breath to be told how nice he looks in a swim suit—neither am I. Neither are any of the women writing and reading and gaming in this industry.

We Need Your Help

Change does not happen in a vacuum. For every person refusing to go out of your way to give a book written by a woman a chance, that’s a voice held in check, silent against the hatred and oppression barring our way.

We don’t need gender-blindness, we need awareness. We need help. Not talking about it, not acknowledging the problem, only feeds the same trolls hammering us down. As long as good men and women remain silent, convinced they’re not part of the problem, we don’t have the support we need to stand up to the misogynists shouting us down.

One day, we all will be on a level playing field, and then we can afford to be blind. One day,  women will be recognized for the qualities of their work and not the qualities of their bodies, one day people of color will be referenced first by their accomplishments and not by their heritage, one day LGBTQ people will be lauded for their achievements and not what they do in the bedroom—but this is not that day.

My plea: Give books written by women and games by and featuring women a chance. Give them the same chance you’d give a new genre, a new type of story, a game in general. Maybe you’re picking it up because it’s in your favorite genre and it’s written by a woman, maybe you’re reading it because some old guy said it was trash and because it’s written by a woman. Whatever the reason, let the motive for passing it on be this: it’s a damn good book or game, and you’d like to see more women who create like this get the same opportunities men already have to share it.

This isn’t about wars on the internet. It’s about acceptance—going a little further to give people struggling against obvious and sometimes violent oppression a helping hand. Where will it start, if not with you?


207 responses to “The Silent Majority: Fear of Sexism is a Misogynist’s Best Friend”

  1. I always hear the outrage about unspecified people saying something against women in comics, women in sci-fi, women in cosplay, women in gaming, women in whatever.
    But I never ever hear anyone actually saying anything like that.
    Always the outrage, never the deed.

    Maybe I just happen to not know any misogynists … maybe.

    • So I’m guessing none of the links in the article worked for you? Must be something up with your browser.

      • Sexism exists, no question. Women often earn less, women are hindered in certain career paths, etc. These are facts.

        But once again I spent 20 minutes clicking links and none got me to anyone demanding women should not write sci-fi. And more prominently, the claim that women should not be in the comics industry.

        Would anyone of you who have actually seen these demands give me three .. no wait, one – just one! – link to a statement to that effect. (And I mean to a post of someone stating that, not to a post of someone who has seen such a post somewhere)

        Thank you.

        • So you won’t accept someone giving a personal account of being mistreated on account of their gender?

          In case not, here, take a look at what happened to Anita Sarkeesian when she merely pointed out that the XBox One was launching without any titles where women are the lead characters:

          http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/52673540142/twitter-vs-female-protagonists-in-video-games

          Or Vox Day’s rant about women and the “ruination of both the organization and most of the science fiction publishing houses” where he accuses a female author of being a fascist.

          http://voxday.blogspot.de/2013/06/women-ruin-everything-sfwa-edition.html

          Took me about 3 minutes to find that.

          You’re welcome.

          • Alright. Thank you for investing the time! These definitely both count.

            I believed the personal accounts even without links for the longest time, but bit by bit my confidence was eroded – especially since I witnessed someone else asking that same question and NOT getting any links, only being labelled a sexist himself.

            Now my trust is back up thanks to you.

          • Glad to help.

            Thought a word to the wise, it’s perhaps a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt when they talk about how they’ve been mistreated or seen others be mistreated.

            The fear that they won’t be believed, or worse, that they’ll be blamed, is one of the reasons many women don’t speak out and why so many cases of harassment, abuse, and rape go unreported.

            And because it’s such an emotionally-charged topic, you need to be very careful in how you seek out confirmation so as not to seem like you’re passively suggesting that someone’s account is untrue or that you’re trying to excuse inappropriate behaviour.

          • How… interesting that a man won’t believe the linked articles mean anything because a woman put them in her post. He will only “trust” another man’s links. “Now my trust is back up.” Meaning, he didn’t “trust” the other links, because girl cooties were all over them.

          • Hi Andrea… please note I was just asking for links. I would happily accept them from you too. Give me one and I will thank you the same way I have thanked him.

            I would be especially interested in any links to articles demanding women to be not in the comics industry. If you could provide any, I’d be much obliged, but any field would be alright.

            Thank you also for reading this response.

        • The problem with this is that much of my personal anecdotes are actual, physical conversations. You would have to be in the right place, the right time—impossible, now, since the conversations are over and done.

          Sorry. It’s not my job to search the internet for you. If you legitimately want to be a voice of support, you’ll do a little of your own legwork. I’ll direct you again to Lindy West’s commentary on the matter: http://jezebel.com/quit-fucking-asking-me-questions-a-refresher-course-512810149

          By demanding I do your legwork for you, you are sitting back and (perhaps unwittingly) suggesting that it’s all made up.

          It’s this kind of stuff that stalls the discussion. Educating yourself is just as much your job as anyone else’s.

          – K.

          • Thanks for taking the time to respond, and thank you also for your advice. I shall do the legwork soonishly.

            I also appreciate that you take my question seriously even though it is a somewhat problematic question.

        • Here’s another link

          http://www.the-spearhead.com/2009/10/09/the-war-on-science-fiction-and-marvin-minsky/

          I just googled “women ruin sci-fi” and this was the second link. The first link was complaining about the article.

          I skimmed it. From what I saw, the article is written by a man who is complaining that women writing science fiction and being involved with the ‘syfy’ channel are changing science fiction from it’s proper ‘men doing things’ theme into stories about ‘relationship drama’ set in space.

          • Huh. Evidently he forgot about the relationship between Han and Leia in Star Wars. Romance of one sort or another have been in sci-fi for a pretty long time.

          • Ha! Wow. Thank you! That is exactly the kind of stuff I was missing. Many thanks for providing me with the link. I shall store that, too. My own foreys into the Googleverse have obviously been directed by the wrong set of keywords.

          • You’re welcome.

            Lol. I just read the end of the article. Apparently women writing sci-fi is not only ruining sci-fi, it is also discouraging future generations of boys from pursuing science and engineering.

            Women who write science fiction are apparently smothering the potential of children! Who knew?! 🙂

          • From the article (first paragraph): “Considerably more men than women are interested in reading and watching science fiction. This is no surprise. Science fiction traditionally is about men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, [blah, blah, blah]…”

            This cracks me up. Men are interested in it because it’s about men. It’s about men because men are interested in it. Nothing like a logical fallacy to kick off an article.

          • “Men are interested in it because it’s about men. It’s about men because men are interested in it.”

            Haha! Doesn’t this kind of logic create a paradox and rip a hole in the fabric of Time-Space or something? 😉

          • A rip in the fabric of Time-Space.. sounds like there’s a sci-fi-story in that. Maybe this U. K. Le Guin guy can write sumfin about it. There’s a proper writer from the good old days before all those women… hey… waaaaaait a second……

        • http://www.geekingoutabout.com/2013/06/01/trishas-take-how-jean-rabe-screwed-the-pooch-for-the-sfwa-bulletin-and-how-the-sfwa-can-make-things-better-going-forward/

          This is also a link to an article that talks about sexist things printed in the SFWA bulletin. Text from the SFWA bulletin is quoted as part of the article. The article is a secondary source, of course, but it contains actual quotes from primary sources.

          The primary source referred to is an industry publication, so this isn’t just some random dude on the internet being sexist.

          • Ah, yes… the fixation on how a woman looks is quite common even among those who mean well. I read several pieces about a teenage girl who invented some quick-charger for smartphones (not mass produced as of yet) or the first female Taikonaut, and invariably those who approve of the development praise how pretty the person in question is while others (who don’t actually seem to go anywhere with their comments, so could just as well be dismissed as trolls) decry how ugly they think they are. I am sure I miss it most of the time, but the reference to looks is always there when any media speaks about a woman. Sometimes so placative its terribly hard to overlook.

            Sadly I forgot who it was, but some scientist discovered something, and after the title that promised information about the discovery the article (written by a woman, btw.) went on for half its length about the hair of the scientist and what she wore. Just an instant before I lost hope it finally got to the topic at hand, and then only superficial.

            I did not contact the writer and just assume that she had to make it 1.000 words or something but only had about 200 about the science side itself. Still it was strange and I couldn’t help thinking that if it was a man they would have found something else, maybe about his hometown or the like, and wouldn’t have spared more than one line about his outfit, let alone his hairdo.

      • I didn’t believe either until my youngest daughter went there on a school trip. It is in fact real. She brought home pictures and everything.

    • Do you mean you never hear anyone you personally know saying this stuff, or you never see it anywhere in these articles/posts/etc? Good for you if you don’t know any misogynists. If you can’t see the misogyny in those articles, or, particularly, in the commentary, maybe you need to review the meaning of the word.

    • Interesting to me that when Chuck wrote on this topic personally, the initial responses were positive (at least, ones that we saw–assuming Chuck didn’t delete any horrible troll monsters).

      When a woman steps in to write about the topic, the first comment is dismissive.

      Aaaand this is why we need more articles like this. Thank you again, Chuck, for providing the space on your blog to talk about this.

  2. If I might: choosing a book solely based on gender is, in fact, another form of sexism. Period.

    That said, there is not a single reasonable person on the internet advocating for choosing books solely on the basis of gender. However, in the echo chamber of Twitter and the like, the reasonable people get MT’d to the point that, “Check out these kickass books by women!” turns into “BUY LADY-BOOKS OR YOU ARE A SEXIST DOUCHE.” I take exception to that, because it is sexist douchery, but ALSO because people don’t better themselves by being shamed. You wanna convert them? Then treat them like people, too. Look at their shelf. Recommend something that would fit there, only less penis-y. That’s how hearts and minds are changed.

    One thing that gets lost in my post is, I didn’t argue we should hug it out and drop the debate because YAY PEOPLE! I said we should drop the debate because one side is so untenable they’ve effectively surrendered their right to argue. And I quote:

    “It seems to me the only position out there worth a damn is to try your best to treat people equitably off the page, and to create fully-fleshed characters on it.”

    By that, I mean every moment. Every interaction. Every book recommendation, if that’s the narrow slice of life you want to look at. And my post also directs you to a Mind Meld piece in which I state:

    “…the equitable treatment of authors, editors, and fans of any race/creed/gender/orientation/whatever should be considered prima facie obvious to anyone with two working neurons to rub together…”

    And, regarding the painful trope of warrior women:

    “In issue 202, Mike Resnick expressed puzzlement at the sudden outrage over what he called “…the thousandth painting of an absolutely generic warrior woman.” Which to me seems like irony itself, because I could not have coined a phrase that more aptly conveys why I think this trope should die than Absolutely Generic Warrior Woman.

    Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the warrior woman trope was borne of the best intentions. The writers who first employed it doubtless intended to subvert the notion of women as damsels in distress, or shrinking violets to be led to fainting couches and/or protected. So they beefed up their roles while winnowing down their clothes. Win-win, right?

    Problem is, we’re so far past that now as a society, it reads like bullshit pandering and lazy characterization with a heaping side of fanboy wish fulfillment. It doesn’t empower women in any meaningful way (nor, for the record, were women any author’s to empower); all it does is extend the list of accepted female roles by one. In that sense, it’s not unlike the equally misguided bit of fictional affirmative action, the Magical Negro – which was itself an outgrowth of the patently racist notion of a noble savage. It’s time we acknowledge that “Women are badass!” is just as broad a brush as “Women are fragile!” and start treating our female characters like full-fledged people…”

    I include these quotes because, while Karina calls my post reasonable, she also (possibly inadvertently) straw-mans my position into nonsensicality. Not recommending books solely on the basis of gender does not equal silence. It does not equal inaction. It leaves loads of room to handsell, to proselytize. To help the cause of equality in a meaningful rather than a facile way. It just holds those who do to a higher standard.

    Let me start. Best book of last year, hands down: DARE ME by Megan Abbott. Knocked me flat. Blew me away. And Megan, I understand, may well be one a them lady-authors…

    • I will continue what you started. I just read the first two books of MaryJanice Davidson’s BOFFO series last week and found them humorous and engaging. I could not put them down once started. I have the third one waiting for me once I return home from work. I totally expect it to hook me like the first two in the series.
      I didn’t even look at the author of these books (they were recommended by my wife) until I was adding authors I enjoyed to my twitter follow list at which point I looked the books up to find her.

    • Thanks, Chris! I hope I made clear that I still respected the post itself—”be kind” and “First Amendment does not equal a promised platform” are pretty much spot on to how I feel. 🙂

      As for the point of your argument, I have trouble with it because it is, perhaps, too enlightened. In a world where the majority believe that it’s okay to abuse a person because of gender/color/class/creed, the few who believe in “-blindness” (by which I mean [gender/color/lifetsyle]-blindness) are coming across as if we shouldn’t address the concern. That if a few people can start making waves, then it’ll catch on.

      Will you devote as much time to blogging, articles, speeches, and patience as you’re asking me to? Will you stay up with me when I’m in tears because more “famous author men” are telling me that I don’t belong in their industry, backed by legions of supportive commenters? Will you be there when I’m assaulted in a con because I don’t belong? Will you be there every step of the patient word-slinging fight you’re asking me to partake in?

      Or is it that I should simply be patient and wait for the enlightenment to take root? In that case, I’m being asked to just sit and wait and write stuff without calling to action—a state of being that doesn’t help me at all. I’d like to make my living in an industry I choose, not one that is “one of those industries not currently barred by men”.

      As I feel most strongly the backlash of the current situation, I don’t know that what you’re suggesting sits well with me. It’s a great logical reasoning, but it leaves me feeling a little sick inside. :/

      Of course, rather than “pick up a book because it’s written by a woman and give it a chance”, I could say, “Pick up any book, regardless of gender, color, creed, and give it a chance!” The problem is, people do say that—I do encourage that—and it ends up being a great excuse for people to gravitate towards their biases. Sure, they should be allowed to, but not when those biases begin coloring the industry. It has to start somewhere.

      Maybe there’s a compromise. “Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the warrior woman trope was borne of the best intentions. The writers who first employed it doubtless intended to subvert the notion of women as damsels in distress, or shrinking violets to be led to fainting couches and/or protected. So they beefed up their roles while winnowing down their clothes. Win-win, right?”

      I say you may be right (it may also be that the warrior woman was created to give the “illusion” of strength while their lack of clothing retained them as exposed fantasies, but let’s run with the positive). So, I say, “Great for change!” But we can’t stop at one step. Obviously, as a society, our art needs to continue to evolve. That’s my problem: it doesn’t. It hasn’t. It’s not allowed to. Which is why the raging debate about “strong female protagonist” is such a hot ticket thing. So, yeah, I think the fact the warrior woman failed in its bid to support equality because they stopped evolving her sometime in the 80s.

      As it’s now 2013, perhaps we oughtta get back to doing that? And same with all forms of equality. The civil rights movement isn’t on equal footing yet, the gender wars, LGBTQ issues. There’s a lot we need to work on: and once we do, it really can’t stop there.

      p.s. I do not have a debate history or any sort of profound degree in all those terribly important words that make up really smart people’s lexicon. (Seriously, no sarcasm here.) “Strawman” and things like that make no sense to me. I see them thrown around by trolls in news comments (ohgod, first seen it on FARK) so much that I’ve come to kneejerk as seeing it as a dismissive thing one says to someone to focus instead on the arguer’s chosen semantics. I realize that’s not the case, so I apologize if I come across as avoiding the point you mean to indicate by saying I’m strawmanning the argument. 🙂 I just don’t understand.

      And, hey, Chris? Thanks for the book rec. 🙂

      – K.

    • …You know, because I’m spending good money on therapy, I think I should clarify:

      It’s not that you are telling me that I’m doing it wrong, it’s that I feel like this is your message.

      To clarify this feeling: I would like to know, in no uncertain terms, what course of action you’d suggest I take?

      Also note: I am not being snide, aggressive, or trying to call you out. I am attempting to engage in matter of fact discourse. 🙂 My takeaway from your response is that I shouldn’t go about addressing sexism like this. Ergo, what would you have me—and those like me—do?

      – K.

    • The thing with me is, I HAVE had times when I’ve thought, “gee, the last 12 books I’ve read were written by dudes. Since I’m a female and write science fiction, maybe I ought to find a sci-fi book by a woman for my next read.”

      I agree with Karina that it’s not sexist to pick up a book because a woman wrote it (esp. if it’s in a genre you enjoy). Reacting to its content differently because a woman wrote is sexist, I feel ( It’s super good! you know, for a lady-book. But I expect more from my dude-written books’).

    • “However, in the echo chamber of Twitter and the like, the reasonable people get MT’d to the point that, “Check out these kickass books by women!” turns into “BUY LADY-BOOKS OR YOU ARE A SEXIST DOUCHE.” I take exception to that, because it is sexist douchery, but ALSO because people don’t better themselves by being shamed. You wanna convert them? Then treat them like people, too. Look at their shelf. Recommend something that would fit there, only less penis-y. That’s how hearts and minds are changed.”

      Dear Mr. Holm,

      You do have some points.

      At the same time anyone who thinks of themselves as against sexism, and/or an ally to women, and/or a feminist, should take another look at the troubling defensiveness of some of the argument above.

      If a person actually doesn’t read or buy books by women, that person seriously _does_ need to consider how sexism has informed their actions and their tastes.
      Sorry, they do.
      Sexism sneaks in everywhere. It’s pervasive, it’s hard to get rid of –even when people are well-intentioned.

      We can also say the same RE issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, etc.

      I am sorry that the shrill, wild, and even meta-ridiculous levels of debate that occur on Twitter etc. has put you off. And I haven’t read these exact kinds of exchanges on Twitter. But that does not substantially change the truth of my statements above.

      Yes, I agree that people in general don’t better themselves by being shamed. At the same time, sometimes people do have things to be ashamed about. Perhaps I should refine the terminology I’m using…
      Is shame different than guilt? Is shame terminally toxic, and guilt something less so? I don’t think it is right or useful to shame people personally into oblivion.

      However, we need to acknowledge that some social feelings of guilt (which I take to be less personally destructive) are important and useful. Do we want people to have _no_ care for others?

      Don’t decent people feel guilty over doing bad things, or doing a bad job of something, or making mistakes that hurt other people?
      Does guilt spur people sometimes to make change? Is guilt never useful?
      Can important progress against sexism (for example) be made only with happy rainbows and no hurt feelings, never ever?

      If I dare to point out that someone has done something sexist (and being a woman, having to witness or be the object of sexism again and again does hurt me) and it hurts their feelings, what then?
      If they feel chagrined, or guilty, or regretful, about their sexist action, is that so bad?

      Do their hurt feelings count more than my hurt, even when they were the one in the wrong? Even though I may endure the effects of sexism (in large and small ways) multiple times a day, and having the energy and the courage to dare to point it out yet again often makes me vulnerable to attack by masses of sexist trolls (who reinforce the same-old/same-old sexist dynamics we’ve seen since forever)?

      Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody can also learn from their mistakes.
      We all need to do this in different areas.
      I’m a white woman, and even though I try not to say or do racist things, and to educate myself about racism, I screw up sometimes. I try to acknowledge it when I do screw up, and learn from it. It’s hard but it’s worthwhile.

      I would also argue that to have any meaningful stance in support of women and against sexism, we must acknowledge that women are the group that is oppressed in a sexist system. Men suffer too, but men as a group are still substantially elevated above women as a group in such a system. Men have much more power and status as a group, and much more ability to change or influence the system. Women _do_ _not_ have the institutional power that men have in this sexist society, or the control over the system that men as a group have.

      Maybe confronting the continuing chronic sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. in sf/fantasy genres, fan space, industries is going to be uncomfortable for some people –in ways it wasn’t before they considered these issues.

      Actually taking these issues seriously and listening to the people most impacted by them means it is going to be uncomfortable in a way it usually isn’t for many men, white people, straight people, non-trans people, etc., in these spaces. This generally cannot be helped, if we actually want equality, and not just window-dressing.

      Maybe people who claim to be (or want to be) not sexist, not racist, not homophobic, not transphobic, not ableist, etc. need to acclimatize to a little more discomfort at times, in the name of doing the right thing.

    • I think you’re looking at this in too much of a black & white perspective. Forget about “you did something based on someone’s sex, ergo it’s sexist.” I think you need to look more at the big picture. Instead of looking at the act alone, consider the ramifications of the act as well. The point is that women are under-represented in the genre and so if you’re not picking up a book specifically because it was written by a woman, then there is a good chance that the book you pick up will not be written by a woman.

      It’s a sampling problem. You pick up books by men because those books make up the majority. This tells publishers that books by men sell better, and so they push more of them out, which only exacerbates the problem. It’s a stacked deck, a self-perpetuating cycle. I believe Ms. Cooper’s point was that it takes deliberate action to break the cycle.

      As many others have said, this doesn’t mean you pick up a book that looks terrible just because it was written by a woman. It doesn’t mean you lie about the quality of the book just because it was written by a woman. It doesn’t mean you read exclusively books by women. It doesn’t mean you have to change the genre you read. It means find a book that looks good and that was written by a woman. And buy it. Talk about it. Review it. Send a message. If you loved it, say you loved it. If you hated it, say you hated it. But either way, the reason is not “because it was written by a woman”. That’s the reason you picked it up, but not the reason it was good or bad.

    • Here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the warrior woman trope was borne of the best intentions. The writers who first employed it doubtless intended to subvert the notion of women as damsels in distress, or shrinking violets to be led to fainting couches and/or protected. So they beefed up their roles while winnowing down their clothes. Win-win, right?

      I genuinely do not understand this comment. “Win-win” for whom?

  3. Hi Karina,

    I’ve been blogging lately about this issue (tomorrow I have a post about the fallacy of games not selling if they have women on the cover), because it’s come to have a very real impact on me since my twin daughters were born last December.

    I am right there with you. I’ve had my points rebuffed by people who say they’re “egalitarian” and “why can’t you treat everyone with repsect, regardless of gender?” The fact is, if people aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem. We need change and we need to make it happen, now!

    I refuse to let my daughters grow up in a world where people think they can mistreat them because of their gender, and I’ll do everything in my power to give them a fair shot in life.

    On a personal note, you write steampunk and urban fantasy? Fantastic! I’ve been searching for steampunk novels to try out and you’re on my list!

    • I’m prefacing this with thanks for your support on this issue, because I don’t want to put you off of it. And sincere congratulations on your daughters, that’s awesome. But I really need to say: you don’t need to explain to anyone why you’re advocating for equality. There’s no membership requirement of having a daughter or a wife or being a woman or having a friend who is a woman to earn your Feminist Club Card. If someone acts as a feminist, or as an ally to anyone, they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

      I see the daughter thing being given as a reason by men a lot, and it’s so weird every time. It comes across as “I’m not a woman, but I feel I need proof to be in your club.” And, again, congratulations, I know you must be very happy about your daughters! But feminism doesn’t require a first-born-daughter for entry, you can come right on in.

      • Thanks 🙂

        I suppose I’m afraid of coming across as a white-knighter (I do have protective tendencies towards my female friends). I want people to know I’m genuine in what I say, and not jumping on a bandwagon or trying to get laid.

        It’s good to know I’ll be taken at my word.

        • Sadly, it’s only men that call other men a “white knight” as a way of trying to negatively rationalize a man’s support for women as him attempting to get laid (online, somehow? As if that’s possible?).
          As much as it does/will suck, advocating as a male feminist is probably one of the few ways a guy makes himself truly vulnerable to being called hurtful names by others men–“white knight” and “mangina” are for some reason considered worse slurs to guys than any other generally male-oriented insult.

          But getting called those names, if anything, will hopefully cement the idea that this is a real problem instead of driving you away from identifying as a feminist. Especially because you’ll know what it’s like to be immediately targeted with ignorant hatred just for speaking your mind, something that women experience regularly.

          Don’t worry about feeling like you wouldn’t be “legitimate” or genuine enough or any of that stuff, I hope Erica’s comment didn’t coming off as judgmental, because it seems like she’s just encouragingly saying “You shouldn’t feel like you have to give an excuse for being a male feminist, as long as you support women you’re welcome with open arms” which I absolutely second.

          And even if it took the birth of your twin baby girls (congrats, by the way!) to fully realize the affects of sexism on women, there’s no judgment for that. Often it takes a life-changing event for people to really think about certain issues, and it doesn’t make you part of a bandwagon because male feminists are still rare enough that you’re pretty much on the ground floor still.

          Also, I agree about your previous comment about egalitarians, I can understand why it exists but it’s extremely ineffective at spurring change because it lumps every discrimination and group all into one so there’s no focus. We have to have separate advocacy groups because not every group is equally discriminated and requires their own coalitions/supporters to get their specific goals achieved. We are trying to move closer to ideas of intersectionality, or how different systems of oppression and discrimination intersect between race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. because they all obviously tie in together

  4. As a lady writer just getting her feet wet, the conversation around sexism in publishing (and all sorts of things I’m interested in) is terrifying.

    So terrifying, in fact, that I’ve angsted myself to a standstill in the process of structuring my third book. There are so many questions about my role in the struggle for women to be acknowledged, accepted, and respected in the field (all fields). What if I don’t want to write my books with a strong, sensitive female protagonist; what if I want to write a strong, sensitive male one? You know – just for example. It brings up all kinds of feels, especially when I read articles like this.

    I wish feminism weren’t so complicated in my mind (and I’ve had a lot of people tell me to basically just shut up and stop supporting the patriarchy with my questions). I agree with the sentiment and the need for action – but I stumble when I try to sort out my own legs as I walk forward.

    • Your comment caught my eye, because it gets at the potential casualties that all this double-thinking leaves behind after a discussion of gender equality: the potential loss of a great story peopled with engaging characters due to the author’s inhibiting sense of obligation to be all things to all people.

      If you’re even thinking about these questions, you probably don’t have anything to fear in going to town with the story you really want to tell in the way you want to tell it. If that means writing another strong, sensitive male protagonist so be it.

      Stereotypes, gender and otherwise, become exploitative in normalizing social injustices only if they remain mere sketches, rather than complex, fully-realized characters who make choices that have consequence.

    • This.

      It probably says something about my writing ability and lack of imagination, but I’m finding myself torn between the story I want to write and the story I’m told I should write. I find it paralyzing.

      Thank you for speaking up Ellie Di. Is nice to know I’m not the only one struggling with this.

      • I’m curious about specific examples with this problem. So much of the discussion remains in the abstract.

        Would you be willing to describe the specifics of the contrast between the story you want to write and the story you feel obligated to write?

        • I don’t know. Maybe? I feel a bit stupid for saying anything in the first place. I don’t want to derail Chuck & Karina’s post.

          I just wanted to thank Ellie for speaking up (and now thank Karina for responding to her).

          • No need to feel stupid.

            Look, I’m not exactly an author known for writing perfect books where all the characters are equal and there is no -ism. I don’t do that. I write the things I write—racism, sexism, even a borderline-consent sex—with a singular purpose: to tell a story.

            I am not suggesting that all your characters be the epitome of equality and enlightened peace, but do know what it is you’re writing and why. The end. 🙂

            – K.

    • Dear Ellie:

      Please write the story you want to tell—the one that will be told. Simply keep an eye out for things that you find yourself falling into. I talk about this a little bit at my own site, but here’s where I catch myself:

      Kameron says that she’s the most self-aware misogynist she knows, and I’m willing to give her a run for that dirty, dirty money. It’s no credit to myself that I often find myself writing scenes wherein—with one fell swoop of dialogue or reaction (or lack of reaction) to an event—I turn a female character into a virgin (“Oh, no, I’m too naive and stupid to know what you mean, kind sir!”), a victim (“Crap, I’ve gone and done this thing which means I’ll wait here for Strong Mark to save me.”), an object (“I’ll just sit back and let them fight over me, gasping into my hands all the while!”), or a whore (“I want him to like me, so I’ll sleep with him, and I’m sure the other two guys I slept with won’t mind, because now they’ll never leave me!”).

      I write strong characters—and by that, I mean people who are often obstinate, prideful, or fixated to the point of stupidity. While it’s true that some characters do make choices based on the mold society made of them, it is equally true that not all of them will do so—and that’s where I catch myself. One or two lapses into the virgin, et al, tropes can be easily explained as part of the mental process that shapes all of us as flawed human beings.

      It’s when all of them start sprouting scales that I have to take a step back and really look at my choices.

      How can I be a llama, sporting neither scales nor baby-chomping incisors, with no real urges to throw myself over a cliff to speak of, and still see llamas as scaly baby-eaterslooking for a tall cliff? It makes no sense. I am the visible proof of my own misconceptions, and yet, I gravitate to what I have been told, rather than what I know from experience.

      Am I crazy?

      In essence, if you are writing a physically strong man, a physically strong woman, a physically weak man, a physically weak woman, a en emotionally strong man, etc, etc, etc, then do it. What you really need to look out for is that all his or her choices, all the things they do, say, and talk about, suits the character—not the bias hammered into all of us.

      It’s crazy how often I find myself defaulting a character, especially a woman, into virgin, victim, object or whore. It’s something I actively try to address, because obviously, if it’s so ingrained I don’t notice myself doing it, that’s a problem!

      Keep writing. You can do it! As was said above, that you even take note means you need to be writing. 🙂

    • Write what you want. Obviously you are keeping in mind the tropes that you don’t want to fall into using. If you want an author to look up to try checking out the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

  5. Great article.

    I hate when I’m applying for a job that has “equal opportunity” policies and requires you or politely urges you to identify yourself as a woman, an aboriginal, a member of a minority, or a person with a disability. I’m 2/4, and I always think they are weeding us out rather than including us. Suspicious but with good reason. I’d like to be hired on merit not because of a government quota. And if I ever get published I’d like and hope for it to be because I’m a good writer and for readers not to notice/care that I am an aboriginal woman.

    • A fair point. Perhaps, if books could be “blind”—no bio photo, name withheld—that might be a way to ensure that books were judged on merit; just like your skills should be judged on their merit.

      Of course, if we’ve gotten so bad that we’re forced to strip every individual detail from ourselves just to get a fair shake, I think that might be a sign of a seriously awful problem, right?

      I hope to one day read your book. 🙂

      – K.

      • There was a test done on someone’s blog recently that did something similar to this and people were right/wrong about the gender overall 50% of the time even when previously familiar with an authors writing. I don’t remember the blog as I think I got to it by going down rabbit holes.

  6. Asking questions is never wrong. It’s through questioning what we’re told that we can see where the problems lie and learn how to solve them. So keep asking!

    Write the story that speaks to you, don’t worry about fitting to trends or feel that you have to tick certain boxes to be accepted as a feminist. The protagonist in my series is a man, and there’s nothing to say that it has to be otherwise. It’s about making sure that the women in your work receive a fair share of the attention and have developed and interesting personalities of their own.

  7. I really had to dig for the point of this article, which seemed to be, as Chris so eloquently put it, “BUY LADY-BOOKS OR YOU ARE A SEXIST DOUCHE.” Anyway, a good point (“try to be less sexist”) buried under a lot of really pointless ranting and screaming.

    If I’m going to read a book, it’s because it sounds good and the writer is good, not because of the gender of the author or the protagonist. I have to agree with Chris that you’re not getting any points by trying to shame me into reading more stuff by women by telling me that I’m sexist if I don’t read books just because women wrote them.

    The saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” doesn’t necessarily mean, “and don’t do anything else.” It just means that if you want to change something, start at home. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk, or some shit. Don’t just rant and scream, actually do what you’re telling other people to do.

    And in fact, this article would have been a lot more effective for me if you’d just done what you want other people to do and recommended some awesome books by women.

    @Andreas In my years as a female gamer and game design enthusiast, I have never experienced any misogyny. That doesn’t mean I think it doesn’t exist, but I think that it’s a very loud and disgusting minority.

    • I agree with Laura on several points. I read the article and I understand where Karina was coming from and what she meant—after reading Chuck’s posts this week as well as several over the SFWA magazine cover, it’s clear that there are problems in the publishing/writing world (as there are everywhere else).

      The sentence that caught my eye was: “Active inclusion, babies. It’s about one person—maybe you?—making the choice to pick up a book by a woman author and giving it a chance, and then treating that book like you would any other book.”

      I own, read, and enjoy a variety of books by female authors in different genres. Did I pick up those books because they were women? No. I picked them up (and continue to read them to pieces) because they sounded interesting and well-written.

      This point was made earlier, so at the risk of redundancy, it is up to female authors/gamers/zookeepers/what-have-you to produce quality work. In whatever genre or way that applies to you and what you do. Instead of devoting all our energy to ranting about “The Man” and “the oppression of the patriarchy,” I think we should focus our time and our talents on creating works that no one can impugn because of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. etc. etc.

      • What I took from the sentence about active inclusion wasn’t to suggest that you’re part of the problem if you don’t buy books by women, but that we should encourage people to not avoid books simply because they’re written by a woman.*

        Kind of like how people are encouraged to support local businesses instead of buying from large corporations, you know?

        Thankfully, it seems that the people posting here are not the type to let a woman’s name on the cover deter them from picking up a particular book.

        *Karina, please correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s how I interpreted your post.

        • Paul,

          Thank you for pointing that out. Perhaps I read out of context. I definitely agree with the idea that you should buy a book because you want to read THAT book regardless of the name on the cover.

          Karina,

          Sorry if I misinterpreted—you presented a ton of information!

          • Please don’t apologize! It’s okay. There was a lot there, I know.

            I mean both—although perhaps I should have put in a qualifier that said “if you look at your bookshelves and it is primarily filled with men, perhaps you might consider going out of your way to add some good women”, although I’m sure that there are better ways to phrase that.

            The thing is, maybe I was too general. Perhaps I should have put in a bit about how obviously, the cover copy and the theme and the genre should also appeal to you, else it’s like trying to find a “quality” self-pub book in the Amazon browse list just based on the unfamiliar name of the author—a veritable epic task.

            – K.

          • Karina,

            Definitely a good point about taking a look at your bookshelves, I think I may need to go take a peek at mine when I get home. And, I’m assuming the qualifier was meant to be understood–I can’t imagine you OR Chuck telling us to read “bad” books just to break through the habit of not reading as many female authors.

            I wonder if one of the traps that we often fall into regarding male authors—especially in SF/F—is that they tend to write mass quantities/lengthy series of books. I know female authors do as well (JK Rowling, Anne Rice etc) but I know I have more long series by male writers than females. I, and I assume others, tend to find an author I like and to snap up their other writing.

            Thanks for the clarification!

        • “What I took from the sentence about active inclusion wasn’t to suggest that you’re part of the problem if you don’t buy books by women, but that we should encourage people to not avoid books simply because they’re written by a woman.*”

          To go even further – I don’t even think most people *purposely* avoid books by women. It just sort of … happens. A while ago I looked at my bookshelf and noticed that 90% of the books were written by white dudes. And I’m a woman! Who writes! Clearly I think women can write well. So now I’m trying to remedy my own bookshelf problem by being more conscious of what books I add to my reading list.

      • “it is up to female authors/gamers/zookeepers/what-have-you to produce quality work.”

        The way this is worded comes across as presuming women (or POC or LBGTQ) begin their writing/game coding/etc in a position of inferiority. That they have to “work up” to the same quality as straight white male writers/game coders/etc. Which, by the way, is the problem non-white/non-heterosexual/non-male writers must contend with before their work is placed side by side with the majority and after it is place side by side with the majority–and their exclusion further feeds into the notion that “if you were good enough, you’d be up here.” This mindset completely ignores the various obstacles and barriers erected by society, by social groups, or even, in this case, the publishing industry and a writers’ organization.

        • Evangeline,

          I agree—it may have come across that way, which was not what I intended. I simply said females since that was the main group we were discussing. Obviously there are outside forces existing (you mentioned the obstacles and barriers erected by society) that cannot be surmounted simply “doing your best.” I did not mean to feed the “women are inferior” mindset. What I was intended (and not expressing well) is that this is not an issue that we can all just talk our way out of by discussing the inherent inequality. Fight for the spot you deserve, but actions speak far louder than words and once you reach where you want to be, produce quality work that will shut the naysayers up.

          I’m not sure if I clarified what I was trying to say, I hope I did.

      • Wanderer – in other words, you believe that the way to fight bigotry is to conform to a much higher standard than anyone else to prove that we are “just as good”? Do you really not see why this is problematic?

        • I believe someone already pointed out to me the problem with this reasoning and I explained that I did not express myself clearly. I’m trying to remember my original response, but what I meant to convey was that in ADDITION to fighting bigotry/sexism/misogyny/etc. it behooves the writer/artist/etc. to hold THEMSELVES to a high standard. Everyone DESERVES to be treated as an equal—but we live in a damaged world.
          I was trying to express the thought that in the general way of living life everyone should do the best work at what they do. Not in lieu of fighting bigotry in more outright ways, but following the thought that great work is great work no matter who created it. Perhaps it is naive to think that consistent good work will be unable to be silenced.
          I was more trying to follow the thread of thought that if it is good writing, it shouldn’t matter who wrote it.

          I apologize if that was a convoluted explanation, I will admit wholeheartedly that there is a lot about this issue I do not know or fully understand. I hope this gave more insight into the viewpoint I was expressing.

          • Authors considering anything beyond their own impetus to create are being inauthentic to their art. Any outside force including an arbitrary standard is limiting. Even social mores are limiting. A true artist doesn’t take these things into consideration and faces the consequences of their dismissal.

          • Splicer, that would really depend on what the artist in question is hoping to achieve. If they simply want to express their art, raw and passionate as it may be, then yes, 100% what you’ve said.

            However, if an artist wants their work to earn them a living, or have a particular place in society and the general consensus, then it’s impossible to be successful in that without adjusting your creative impulses to meet certain requirements. If you want to challenge social issues, then you need to expose and confront the audience with them. If you want to entertain, you need to ensure that your work is accessible and fun.

            While I don’t think a writer has any obligation to challenge certain issues, I do think they have a responsibility to be aware of them, and the different ways their work can be interpreted, and be ready to explain your choice if confronted. If your only defence for writing something that others find offensive is “I didn’t mean that, you just misinterpreted it,” then you’re going to find yourself with a very brief career.

            The fact is, any artist who expects people to pay money for what they have to offer must treat what they do like a job.

            Otherwise, you’re just churning out material and if something happens to stick, it’s blind chance. That may be “authentic”, but it’s not professional.

            One could even make the argument that it’s impossible for art to not be influenced by social mores. What is art, after all, but an expression of the artist’s thoughts and feelings? And, being human, our thoughts and feelings are majorly influenced by the society in which we live.

    • Perhaps you are correct in that there was a lot of anger in the post. I appear to be rather fed up with a system that assures me gender doesn’t matter in quality with one hand while also being informed that my gender doesn’t belong in the industry. By which I mean writing industry, but your experience in the gaming one is valid.

      I’m actually really happy you haven’t experienced any misogyny in the gaming industry. That’s makes me hopeful that it’s not as widespread as the internet and accountings from my female gamer friends might suggest—though, of course, my own experienced among male gamers still holds. Well, and, of course, the whole lack of strong female characters and a deliberately attributed lack of marketing budget to games featuring female characters.

      I guess my point here is that it’s there. I’m so glad it hasn’t happened to you, I mean that. But that very loud and disgusting minority is giving games with female protagonists 40% of the marketing budget that games with male protagonists have. That’s a problem.

      – K.

  8. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! About a year ago now I wrote an entry from that sort of realization (that living differently but staying silent wouldn’t change much, specifically towards gay rights but as a general statement, too) called “The Tacit Complicity of Silence”. More than my thoughts (which I love, even if I’m way biased), I love the title. It sums up what is wrong with not speaking out.

    I’ve loved this series of posts on this blog. It’s something I was aware of, but not aware of enough, and something that I wasn’t *doing* anything to counter-act. In my mind, that makes me as culpable as those spewing the hate.

    And you know what? These posts have inspired a change. I look for good books by female writers, too – sadly, it takes more searching, not because the books aren’t quality, but because of the asshats who think that women can’t write SF/F so they ignore them. Not much signal, too much noise.

    It’s influencing me as a writer, too. I’m getting ready to worldbuild for a fantasy series (really, who isn’t?), and while I’ve always loved strong characters, some of whom happen to be female, how the world I create could shape our perceptions of gender and race has never been at the forefront of my thought, so my initial thoughts were not very racially diverse, nor did I strongly consider that hey, society doesn’t have to be the sexist thing that it was hundreds of years ago (or now).

    It’s been hard to consider that I’m not doing enough (or much at all) and that I need to take in other perspectives, but it’s also been really, *really* good, and I thank you (plural, so in my southern speech, “all y’all talking ’bout this”) for that.

  9. I felt bad after I read this, because it made me worry that maybe I wasn’t giving women authors a fair shake. But then I remembered, why, yes I believe I am! Here’s the list of worthies:

    Cherie Priest: The Clockwork Century series should need no introduction, but Bloodshot, her first vampire novel complete with female protagonist, wasn’t too bad either.

    Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games, duh.

    J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter, duh.

    Charlaine Harris: The Sookie Stackhouse books, which I didn’t much care for, but they led to True Blood which I loved for about three seasons.

    Meljean Brook: Her steampunk romance book The Iron Duke is on my to-read list, as my wife swears by it.

    Tess Thompson: I won a contest she held on her blog and got a signed box of Kleenex, which got beat to hell in the mail. (“Fragile” is Italian, you know.) I was also promised a copy of one of her eBooks to apologize for the delay in receiving said Kleenex. If I ever get it I’ll read it.

    Sarah Cawkwell and Nikola Vincent-Abnett: The top two female authors of Warhammer fiction.

    Gail Simone: Her Secret Six run for DC is a dark legend and she’s currently penning Batgirl.

    Kelly Sue McCormick: Her Captain Marvel work hasn’t clicked with me, but it’s getting good reviews.

    Lilith Saintcrow: Haven’t read any of her books yet, but her blog Ragged Feathers is oftentimes hilarious, occasionally painful (in the “causes feels” sense).

    The Bloggess: Click on the link. ‘Nuff said.

    Allie Brosh: Sorely missed from the Internet, but hopefully still recovering.

  10. This goes back a long way. Women authors have often chosen male and ambiguous pen names to be accepted. It will also take a long time to change, if ever completely. There is a movement among fundamentalists and conservatives to give women less power again. I’m with you. Discrimination is bullshit. Some of the sci-fi recently written by women has been some of the finest in the genre.

  11. I’m sorry, I just don’t agree with you.

    People are people, no sex is better than the other.
    You want to do something for equal rights? Go on the barricades against publishers who only accept books from women, now that would be fair.

    Does that sound ridiculous?
    It is, that’s why.
    The same as your bleating about how outrageously unfair it is to be a women in western society in the year 2013.

    Sorry, I had to get that off my chest,
    Have a nice day.

    • I’m sorry…what?

      What publishers only accept books from women? Because even in YA, where there are quite a number of women, I went through and found just as many men. In fact, it was almost equal. Which was why there seemed to be so many men.

      We’re not used to seeing women in equal number to men. I noticed this when I was playing the new Tomb Raider. I remember thinking “Wow, there are a lot of girl characters in this.” And then I realized that there were three female characters vs. five men characters. 3/5’s is what I consider “a lot” in my unintentionally biased brain.

      The words that you use all individually seem fine, but I don’t understand the order that you have put them in. We have actual evidence throughout history of women being forced into (or choosing) gender neutral pseudonyms in order to not only become published (as in, it’s not enough to just get published), but in order for there to be an acceptable amount of marketing and exposure and also readership.

      You are kind of proving how dismissive men are to the problems that she is talking about, and you seemed to have ignored every link she posted.

      Sorry, I just had to get that off of MY chest.

  12. I agree that we need to purposely seek out female authors for the following reason… many of us are unconsciously biased against women, especially in roles of authority (and who wields more power than the author feeding thoughts and ideas into your brain for hours at a time?). I say this because I once read a study in which they provided participants with two descriptions of a manager. The only difference was the gender. Guess what? The female was seen as bossy, someone they would not want to work for. The male, just the opposite. We are programmed to be sexist, even the women (hell, especially the women). By purposely reading the female author, we are moving to the middle ground.

    • That was me.

      I always thought, “I’m progressive. I’m gender-blind.”

      It sounded real good in my head, but being gender-blind can mean, well, being blind to the other gender.

      And there came a point where someone asked me who were my favorite female authors — this was maybe three years ago — and I had a few to list. But it was a fraction of the male favorite authors I had on my shelves. Then I actually LOOKED at my shelves and was like, “Ohhhh. They’re not actually THERE.”

      The goal isn’t to just pick up books randomly by women, of course — “SOUNDS LIKE A CHICK, LEMME HAVE THAT ONE” — but obviously to seek books out that sound good and that suit one’s reading and/or writing tastes. But to do in a way where you include women authors (or authors of color) in the selection process.

      The thing is, I would’ve missed out on some really powerful books if I hadn’t tried to purposefully adjust that gender ratio.

      Obviously, this is YMMV for people, but for me, it had value to do it.

      — c.

      • This is, for me, a succinct summation of the whole argument. Don’t pick books by women authors just because they are by women, it doesn’t help the issue. Do be aware of the women authors that are out there and don’t skip over their books just because they are women. Thanks for another article that inspires (mostly) intelligent discussion.

  13. I never choose a book based on the author (unless it’s one from an author I already know and enjoy). I want compelling, well written stories, it doesn’t matter to me if the person who wrote is a man or a woman and it shouldn’t matter to anyone. But maybe it’s because I’m a woman?

    It would be great if feminism wasn’t considered as the desperate cry for help of angry lesbians. The inequalities are real yet people keep their eyes closed. Hell, some women even degrade other women based on the fact that pursuing a career is not as important as getting married and making babies. We seriously need to get our own ranks sorted first (or at the same time, whatever works).

    • No, probably not because you’re a woman. I never look at an author’s name, unless I’m specifically going for that author’s work, like catching the next Jane Yellowrock novel from Faith Hunter or the next Thieftaker novel from DB Jackson. If I’m just looking for, say, space opera sci-fi, I don’t care who is writing it, as long as the premise and writing appeal to me. I don’t go out of my way to look the name up to find out if it’s a man or woman. It just has to be good.

      It seems harder and harder of late to actually find the type of sci-fi I enjoy that’s not Extended Universe stuff of one sort or another. It’s honestly why I turned to sci-fi romance novels and write it (as DJ Davis, of course). The more I looked into those works, I found a more space opera sort of focus. I really don’t care who is writing them, as long as they are good. It has to be good and what I’m looking for. Not much point in picking something up just because of gender if it’s not something you want to read in the first place. And that’s not at all saying that I think female sci-fi writers suck (see earlier my search for sci-fi taking me into romance). I found C.J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy an awesome read, but frankly found the Saga of Seven Suns by Anderson dry, boring, and just not very good. And I picked both up solely on the description. Not because one was female and the other male.

      • I think a lot of people – myself included – probably shop for books without necessarily looking at the author’s name. But there’s still the industry problem – awhile back there were lots of posts on “gendered covers,” where books by female authors would be pink or have flowers or silhouettes of people kissing or whatever, while the covers books by male authors were more likely to be gender-neutral. I used to think that a book cover has never made me not purchase a book (and it’s true that if I read a description of a book and thought it was interesting I wouldn’t then go, “Oh, but the cover sucks, I don’t want to read it), but I know that if I’m skimming a table of books I’m probably not going to flip through one with a heart around the title. I’m probably missing out on really good books just because some other person in the publishing line paid more attention to the author’s sex than I did. I’m just now realizing it, even though I’ve been reading these gender-issue posts for weeks! :p

        • True, and that is prevalent in a lot of publishing, even now. Heck, my cover’s got a beefcake dude with abs that rival Adonis because it’s a romance novella. Not because that’s what I would have imagined, but because that’s what the artist and publisher believes sells romance. I’m jealous of my cover, honestly. My six-pack looks more like a keg…

  14. When it comes to misogyny and sexism against women in particular, we are bombarded with it every day. Advertising is probably the most in your face, subversive, manipulative, insidious, brainwashing activity that shows that sexualizing and dismissing women is okay.

    This has brainwashed millions of people both male and female that a woman must look “x” and dress “y”. The covers of our books and magazines are all T&A, both masculine and feminine (mostly feminine).

    I have never chosen or not chosen a book based on the gender of an author. Genre of a book yes, gender of who wrote the book. No.

    Those who say sex doesn’t belong in science fiction, obviously haven’t read Heinlein. Same with feelings and all the other “soft SF” that “don’t belong in SF”, Heinlein was a master of the feelings in SF, and had at least one book with a character who’s male brain was put in a woman’s body, and wrote from a male perspective how strong women were (touch bit on the sexist side, but for the time the author was writing, it was a huge difference on how women were written)

    The biggest thing we need to remember and diseminate is that SILENCE EQUAL CONCENSUS. If you do not speak up and against by your silence you are saying that they are right.

    • Fun fact: the first really engaging female protagonist I’d read in SF was Heinlein’s Friday. Obvs, what you say about the times is true, but it’s telling how much it stuck with me when I was just a kid. As a woman with some strong “masculine traits”—i.e. I’m a fixer, I’m rather very bad at sympathy, things that are typically associated with the male of the species, psychologically—I was charmed to realize that I could be a hero, too.

      Anyway, I blame him for all these quality shenanigans I’m up to. 😉

      – K.

      • Oh gosh, I blame Heinlein too! Also Louis L’Amour. And before Friday there was Podkayne of Mars. She wasn’t self-rescuing but at least she had opinions and a personality, dammit. My Dad used to make me read Heinlein and L’Amour books that had strong female characters in them (he would sometimes also caution about the mature content or the inappropriate behavior of the dudes). No idea why he wasn’t a sexist pig, since he was from a blue-collar family in a small Texas town and went on to a military career. But he totally wasn’t. I got lucky. He made me read awesome genre fiction, he made my older sister read Lord Jim. Hehe.

        Heinlein was SUCH a dirty old man on the one hand, but on the other hand he certainly appreciated the capacity of women to be the main characters in their own stories.

  15. Firstly I think that your assertion that if I don’t choose books based solely on the author being female that I’m helping misogyny is rather nonsensical, I have never filtered my choice of books based on gender, the fact that probably my favourite author now (Trudi Canavan) and my favourite whilst I was growing up (Tamora Pierce) are both female is completely coincidental. But according to you despite the fact that they are both female I am somehow helping to condemn women in fantasy literature because I didn’t choose them in any part based purely on the fact that they are female? Does that make any sense? Maybe I’m misreading you but that does seem to be what you were trying to say.

    Secondly I fail to see how quietly going about my life never judging or treating people differently based on ANY part of their genetic make-up (sexuality, race, gender, hair colour and whatever else people are still prejudiced towards) can mean that I am helping to further the cause against them. But in the particular case of feminism men (myself included) face a huge amount of abuse for trying to speak out in its favour, and I’m not talking about the uneducated caterwauling of other more neanderthal-like men which I expect, but I have faced more opposition from women. The moment I try to speak out and call myself feminist (which I have tried to in the past), I tend to be first shot down by women who also claim the title, like because I was born male I can’t empathise with them or possibly understand or want to help at best or that (and this one really gets me) I am actually secretly a woman-hating arsehole who’s just trying to hide it at worst. And they usually do this without any thought to the irony of disregarding someone from the debate on feminism based solely on their sex.

    • Obviously, in the same way you can’t be held responsible for the trolling spoogegoblins spouting abuse upon women, all women can’t be responsible for the ones telling you to shut up—sexism is sexism. One the one hand: welcome to my world?

      On the other, by falling quiet, you are removing your sorely needed voice of equality from the equation.

      There is no consensus on what a feminist is—just as there’s no real consensus on what a geek is: how far, how much, how smart, how creative, the qualifiers go on and on.

      Please don’t let them silence you. We need your active help.

      – K.

      • This is a great post, Karina! I just wanted to point out, though, in regards to the above response, that some people are very outgoing and lead by way of being vocal and dynamic. Others only lead by example. Just my opinion, but I think the world needs both kinds.

        • That’s fair—though change, almost by nature of itself, needs that example to be louder than the norm. Possibly not just by words. 🙂

          Regardless, silence isn’t the answer when it’s being overwhelmed by hate and “concern trolling”.

          – K.

  16. “In the industry I work in, I found that when authors—primarily men, but not always—thought I was a reader, they were all too happy to talk with me about various sci-fi and fantasy subjects, geek hobbies, and the like. As soon as the dreaded, “What do you do?” question cropped up, I’d answer, “Oh, I write romance!” That shut the conversation down. At the nicest, I received a very sweet(ly condescending), “That’s great, honey, good luck with that.” At the worst, a laugh and, “Oh, Christ.””

    I’m ashamed to admit that used to be me. I had no problem with how sexually explicit Stephen King could get in his books. Because those weren’t ROMANCE books, those were HORROR or SCI-FI or FANTASY! Thankfully, in college, I started reading some romance novels because, after some soul searching, I realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with them. However, I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with the judgement that I thought I might get for being a DUDE reading a book with a SEXY DUDE on the cover.

    In fact, it took Delilah Dawson’s post semi-recently to help me realize how dismissive I was with the entire genre. I have now made it a point to buy go out and buy a few romance novels, and to double up on female mystery/horror/sci-fi/fantasy writers.

    This is a great post, and I want to thank you for speaking out, and thank Chuck for hosting the discussion.

    • Thank you. 🙂

      – K.

      p.s. The sexualization of men on the cover of romance books is rarely so accepted as the sexualization of women on urban fantasies. Perhaps because we’re long over the concept of a shirtless, sweaty dude in “classy” sci-fi/fantasy? I wonder when we’ll get over sexed up women as a rule in UF.

    • “reading a book with a SEXY DUDE on the cover.”

      HEY! I’ve got one of those on MY cover! Ah well. Hope they don’t expect the writer to look like that. They’ll be sorely disappointed. 😉

  17. Sigh,

    Mr. Wendig you are right and you are wrong. Bias, racial, gender and other are based on personal choice and personal opinions. It is everyone’s right to be biased. Expressing this bias is again their right. We as a society have decided that some of these biases are wrong and we will take it against someone who expresses these biases. It will reflect how we treat them, buy from them or talk about them. I do not support biases based on skin color, gender, religion and many other issues. But it’s always complicated how to resolve this as a society.

    Saying either via personal pleas, government regulation, quotas, that we have to offset previous examples of bias by giving others an advantage based on the same gender, racial or other make appear to solve the problem but also creates more discrimination. This is where you are wrong.

    Where you are right is simply, don’t fucking put up with it. Don’t be quiet. Either when directed at you or you see it directed at others. Say NO!. Respect others peoples right to be assholes and jerks, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it. Nor should we all sit by when some jerk does attack someone on the internet or at a convention where ever. Make your response verbal and firm. “Sorry, I disagree she’s a damn good writer. And if your read any of her work you would know that.” Make sure the Author (or other) being put upon knows you support them. It is that response that will make them know they are appreciated. Not go buy their books because other people are jerks.

    Now I am fully on board with, “Give this author a try he/she is good.” as well as “I can’t recommend his/her books based on personal attitudes of the author,” That’s exactly the way to address it. I would also suggest that pressuring publishers is fair game and again the right way to address it. But saying we need to give a group an advantage over another group because of other people’s bias does not eliminate the bias just covers it up and creates more.

    • I’m sorry, but Chuck didn’t write this post—I did. 🙂 My apologies for the confusion.

      I think my issue is that there’s no advantage to be given here. Women (and people of color, LGBTQ, and so on) are starting at a disadvantage here. I’d like to see the odds evened out before we start talking about giving anyone an unfair leg up.

      Which is my point. In order to level the playing field, that hole needs to be filled in.

      – K.

  18. Well said, Karina. And thank you Chuck for continuing this discussion. I went on a rant last week about this as well. It makes me so angry and embarrassed to be a male (especially a white male). People need to grow up. This attitude is not appropriate, ever.

    I made the decision to never support or read books by authors who encourage hate, bigotry, sexism, etc. It might mean missing out on some great stories, but they don’t deserve my money or my time.

  19. I haven’t had time to read the article in as much depth as I’d like just yet (busy busy at work) but I’d just like to throw something out there before I forget: For a tiny glimpse at sexism and racism within the sci-fi industry, I’d highly recommend watching the Deep Space Nine episode, Far Beyond the Stars (season 6, episode something) in which Captain Ben Sisko, suffering Prophet-related visions, believes he is a sci-fi writer in 1950s America, and lives in a world of discrimination and prejudice.

    It’s incredibly moving and poignant (admittedly, it predominantly deals with racism, but the sexism and misogyny is touched upon too) and to date, it remains my second favourite DS9 episode (there but for the grace of “In The Pale Moonlight”). It’s a rare acknowledgement by the sci-fi industry, of the discrimination which was (and is still) prevalent IN the industry.

    (Sorry Chuck, didn’t mean to steal your thunder or anything, I just feel that this episode is true jewel which is particularly pertinent to this artcle)

  20. To be such a signal booster–in terms of decreasing the vulnerability of the vulnerable–is important. But usually, it is the other way around: that is, people, particularly men in male-dominated cultures and subcultures, act as signal boosters for each other, that is, the least vulnerable. That is why rape and sexual assault is essentially out of control in both Frat settings as well as in the military: the least vulnerable act in the weakest manner possible in this context and reinforce one another’s right to mistreat the vulnerable, rather than showing the actual strength of character it requires to buck such systems.

  21. Just an fyi – I’m sure your mileage varies. I teach composition, part-time, at a community college. One thing I try to get into the student brain is that they will write better when they write towards their interests. I give them latitude to do this over most of the assignments. Part of the process is to introduce them to various topics. One segment deals with the rhetoric of the print-ad. I lead them through, among other things, differences in ads targeting women and ads targeting men. My anecdotal observation is that the young women in the class just aren’t interested in the topic. I don’t know if this is because they are encountering new information and don’t know what to do with it, or because they don’t care.

    • It could be because they have already been molded to believe that they are objects of advertising, not creators. It could also be because that particular age group is is not ready—generally speaking—to widen their sense of awareness beyond the self or immediate vicinity. It could be because of the ads you’ve chosen, or the reactions of the boys in the classroom, or how you’ve presented it, or simply that they don’t want to be at school.

      It could also be that some genuinely aren’t interested in ads—or what goes into them.

      Be careful of falling into the age-old lapse of “girls just aren’t interested” as a default observation. That’s the argument used rather widely in the web-dev and science industries.

      – K.

      • Just another fyi – it’s not just the girls who lack interest. The boys aren’t that interested either. Maybe my observation supports what you are saying about the awareness aspect of this issue. We’re here, replying and responding, because we are interested in things like this and because we are aware. But break away from this, our herd, and listen to the crickets? I’m trying hard not to lapse.

  22. I think you make an excellent point about attempting to be “gender blind” with the world the way it is now. In my opinion it’s the final goal – that gender, race and other separations eventually become nothing more than handy ways to pick each other out in a crowd. But trying to live that way now is ineffectual and makes little to no difference.

    Making our choices without giving thought to the identities of the people behind them results in doing the majority of our choosing from the things the mainstream establishment shows us. It’s better than being the sort of person actively choosing *against* a segment of society, but it doesn’t really help us move toward true equality.

  23. I think what’s important to remember is that we can have equality while still acknowledging the differences between gender, race, and cultures. Diversity makes the world a beautiful place, and ignoring or passing off the fight for women’s rights is a disservice not only to how much harder women have to work to be accepted and respected than men, but to all of us. My fear is that the “we’re all the same” argument might all too easily overlook the wonderful ways we’re all different.

    I see differences in how men write to how women write. Just like a male athlete will have different strengths than a female athlete. Or a woman’s singing voice is different to a man’s.

    Feminism isn’t about women being the same as men. It’s about making sure that their differences are celebrated rather than punished.

    • My fear is how that “vive le difference” argument so often means “no no, that box we’re trying to shove you into is just as good as this other box!”

  24. I have been sitting here for, well long enough for my coffee to get luke-warm, trying to decide whether to comment or not. I am still not sure how I will word this, but I will damn sure speak what is on my mind. When I was much, much younger, I survived rape, not once but three times. I tried reporting one bu the cops wouldn’t even take the report telling me I was just partied too much and was too promiscuous for it to not be thrown out of court. I was also in a very abusive domestic relationship at 17. (An example of how bad it was, I had finally stopped biting my nails and let them grow long. One night I accidentally scratched my boyfriend and drew blood. His response was to go get a pair of pliers and try to pull them out. He managed to get 2 1/2 nails, and a broken nose) which later turned into stalking when I left him but that was before they could do anything about stalking. Women in some areas of the country live in societies where misogyny and discrimination are so ingrained at times, women do not even realize they are hated or discriminated against. I know better now but I grew up in an area where I had to fight but didn’t know why or why I had to be the one to do it. It may have taken me a few years, but now I know. I have a daughter. She doesn’t have the same hurdles I faced so I know we have come a bit further. She’s strong, independent, will tell you what she thinks, has no tact, and she is trying to write her first book. If change doesn’t happen now, it will move on to effecting our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, grandsons and grand-daughters. Besides speaking out about the damage of silence, it would be a good idea to ask if we want the status-quo to be passed on to the next generations and it was passed down to us. Just a thought.

    • Thanks, Tasha. I was sort of mulling over different things I could say, but I was overthinking it in hopes I wouldn’t come across as too dismissive or condescending. It really all comes down to this:

      Dear thekelliko70: Thank you. You are a strong protagonist. 🙂

      – K.

        • Careful with that generalization. It isn’t true for everyone. 🙂

          But let’s not get too far off course: in the end, it’s about seeing women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and yes, men, as “equals”. That’s what will help such things become less a norm, and more the crime that abuse is.

          – K.

          • True. The words came easy to me as I’ve just started being public about my experiences and why I’m having so many issues with the books I’m reading and how sad it is that in many ways things have not changed much since I graduated HS in ’85

  25. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough when I talked about making an active choice in picking up books by women. The most common thread I’m seeing here is one I touched on but figured it was obvious enough—my apologies for being unclear.

    Y’all, this isn’t about randomly selecting a bunch of books by women because they’re women. It’s about picking books whose cover copy speaks to you, whose genre you like or want to try—and who happen to be written by women. I’m not saying eschew all books by men, or just hit up the Amazon listings and randomly grab a couple. Therein lies madness!

    I’m saying if you’re looking to add to your bookshelves, pick up a few that look good who are also written by women (and a few written by men, because why not?). Then talk about them like you would any other book by any other author—if it’s good, awesome; if it’s bad, great.

    I’m surprised at how many people automatically default to the theory that I’m advocating willy-nilly acquiring of books written by women regardless of quality, genre, or story. I feel like there’s a lesson in that—not the least of which being, “Please don’t assume people will understand you when you don’t make it clear.”

    – K.

  26. Excellent post, Karina. Thanks for the good words. I just hate that we keep on fighting this fight and still there are educated humans who do not get it. 🙁

  27. To the people who are saying, “I WON’T pick up a book just because it’s by a woman! I pick up books that are good STORIES!” Good for you.

    But aren’t you ever in the mood for a particular TYPE of story?

    When I’m selecting what to read next, I have often said to myself, Hm, I just read two books in a row set in India, I like India but I’m kind of tapped out on that so I’ll pick an American author this time; or, Man, I’m having a rough week, I want something comforting so I’ll go with Maeve Binchy or Agatha Christie.

    I have even thought to myself, THIS WEEK I WANT TO READ SOMETHING BY A MAN. Because there are natural differences in what people write, that come out based on their background and their experience of the world. Nobody wants a completely neutral book, written by someone with a totally flat perception of the universe who has no natural affinities for any particular type of character or story. It’s those inherent proclivities that make a writer who they are, and why we like them.

    I would compare it to flavors in food. I love hamburgers AND spaghetti AND thai food AND chocolate cake. But it you say you only like hamburgers and you only read hamburger books and you don’t care who made the food as long as it’s a hamburger, maybe it’s time to have a slice of pizza.

    BECAUSE it is pizza.

  28. On a SFF Goodreads group we’ve been discussing whether we are sexist as readers and people have been looking at their bookcases and GR shelves to see if its mostly made up of books by people of their own gender and we’ve been recommending authors to read. It’s been an interesting discussion that has run the gamut of “do men/women write differently” which was partially debunked to cover issues and publishers choosing to do covers of female authors that are less likely to appeal to male readers.

  29. I am not a twirly girl. I don’t care about hair, clothes, make-up, men who done me wrong, family relationships, what to do about my period, or any of that Steel Magnolias / Beaches / Turning Point / Sex in the City crap. I don’t care how Stella got her groove back.

    I hate the way “Chick Lit” and “Romance” genres portray women as fussing over their stupid marriages and will he love me and how can I be swept away and shitty sex scenes. I don’t want to read about vapid twits putting on make-up and wearing boob-revealing tops for some jackass.

    Thelma and Louise had the same problem. They were not icons of liberation.

    I don’t take those kinds of stories seriously.

    It’s not because women write them, it’s because they inherently promote cultural stereotypes about women – and concern topics that do not interest me.

    Chick Lit, as a phenomenon, alienates me and pisses me off. It doesn’t speak for me or about me in any way. It reduces female characters to the lowest common denominator.

    What’s interesting is a woman with an intellectual life, who knows how to do things. Who has real aspirations and skills. Who has something to say. Something that is not about her fucking boyfriend.

    Women who write romance novels are contributing to the perception that women can and should and DO…only write romance novels. And I feel like that hurts me, in the same way that women who model for pornography or dance in strip clubs are hurting me, no matter how “sex-positive” and liberated they may feel about doing it. Is it their right? Sure. Do I have to like it? No. Do I have to agree that what they’re doing is worthwhile? No.

    In my opinion, to not take romance seriously is a matter of personal preference, not gender discrimination. How can I blame men for not liking that stuff when I don’t like it either?

    • May I recommend that you actually read some romance?

      Look, the books and stories you’re talking about aren’t romance—no more than “men swing swords” is the personification of fantasy. For a while, there was a sub-genre in romance that was specifically about such things, but that is no longer the case. In the romance world, you’ll find women who are into ass-kicking and wearing ratty jeans, you’ll find women who don’t want kids, you’ll find women who like makeup but aren’t “fluffy”, you’ll find women who are broken, who are strong, who are angry, who are sweet.

      You, right hear, are using a stereotype that no longer exists as the reason to perpetuate your stereotype.

      Anne Aguirre, Victoria Dahl (who has received an insane amount of flak for her “unlikable” heroines because they are tough and edgy in ways that don’t involve swords or guns), Stacia Kane, Ilona Andrews (more UF with romance, though shelved in romance often), Nalini Singh—romance authors who don’t write books following your perceived stereotype.

      “Women who write romance novels are contributing to the perception that women can and should and DO…only write romance novels.” This is the most offensive statement to date on this comment thread, and that’s saying something. Thank you for proving that sexism doesn’t just come from men.

      Educate yourself before you use this as the reason to avoid an entire genre of quality books.

      – K.

      • +1.

        Yeah, there’s some pretty good sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal romance out there. I feel like you’ll find quite a bit more of the heroine you’re looking for in the sci-fi romance field. “Chick Lit” is not the place to look. I’m not a female writer, but I like to read and write about female and male protagonists who are both strong on their own, but who realize that they are far stronger together as equals than they are apart. A true force to be reckoned with. A duo that can take on the universe, kick ass and take names. I’ll have my first novella out soon as DJ Davis through Red Sage, but go check out more recent works in the romance field. You might be surprised.

      • I’m sexist because I think books categorized as “CHICK LIT” contribute to an environment of cultural oppression in a way that direct impacts my quality of life. Really?

        • No, Sara. You’re sexist because you have just wrapped an entire genre into a false state of “categorical truth” and used that to accuse women romance authors of perpetuating a stereotype—that you yourself perpetuate by choosing to remain ignorant of the genre you’re putting own.

          A new bit of education: “chick lit” and “romance” are not the same genre.

          – K.

          • I disagree. You’ve chosen the Virginia Slims equivalent of writing. That’s inherently marginalizing. It may not be a content problem, but it is a serious marketing problem. As long as a genre exists that calls itself “chick lit,” it really doesn’t matter what it’s about.

            If you’re an opponent of sexism, why not use female icons of social change – someone like Emmeline Pankhurst or Sojourner Truth or any one of a number of 20th century feminists, human rights activists, or Nobel Peace Prize winners – instead of two men?

          • ““chick lit” and “romance” are not the same genre.”

            Truer words. What they call “chick lit” is only one tiny part of the romance genre.

          • Just as sci-fi romance and contemporary romance and historical romance and fantasy romance and paranormal romance and urban fantasy romance and……………..

        • Not all chick lit is about getting a man. Not all romance is about women being less than men. Georgette Heyer romances frequently have women saving the men or working as equals. Gemma Hallidays chick lit mysteries are not about a needy woman although they aren’t my cup of tea. There is a lot of variety in genres and strong women not needing saving can be found in many. I read a lot of fiction across the genres because it helps me write better and lets me carry on conversations with a wide variety of friends. Yes I have personal preferences but my issues are usually broader and run across genres. The issues with how women are treated in fiction starts in kids books and happens in every fiction genre I’ve read so far: mystery, romance, chick lit, SFF, horror, male adventure, pulp fiction, etc.

        • So your problem with it is what it’s called rather than what’s on the inside? If chick lit were called something less sexist sounding you wouldn’t have a problem with the genre? “Beach reading” “entertainment only” “clothes, romance, & humor” ?

          • I perceive the genre to be inherently harmful to women, including myself. That’s one problem.

            If this perception is inaccurate, there is a marketing issue someone may or may not want to address.

            “Chick Lit” is, to me, an off-putting and sexist term. I don’t know what those books should be called, but it’s not a catetgory heading that appeals to me.

            As for your other suggestions, those terms are fine but don’t tell me what to expect, don’t arouse my curiosity, and wouldn’t attract my attention.

            What the category is called should let me know what’s inside. Perception is reality. The packaging is the product.

            As a reader, I’m not going to take a risk with a genre I have a negative impression of.

            It’s not my job to sell the books. It’s the job of the publishers, the marketers, and perhaps the writers themselves to make a case to me about why I should give them a chance.

            Readers don’t owe writers anything. Writers (and publishers) get to decide if they’d rather be right or sell books.

          • There is a difference between it not being of interest to you and you considering it harmful. I personally don’t find anything harmful in the term chick lit. When I suggested the genre be called “clothes, romance, and humor” that is what you’ll find inside most chick lit. Lots of descriptions of designer clothing, romance, relationships, with lots of humor. Or at least all the chick lit I’ve read has contained that.

            Many men aren’t into men’s adventure which after reading several books I think is a misnomer but people know what to expect within that genre: lots of action (shooting/things blow up), vulgar language, maybe sex, not much of a plot IMHO. It’s the male equivalent of chick lit.

        • You do realize that “chick lit” is a dismissive and belittling term that is used by….people other than those who actually write romance?

        • Correct, but because there’s romance in at least one series (from her bio, italics mine: “Stacia Kane is the author of the light-hearted romantic urban fantasy ‘Megan Chase’ series starting with PERSONAL DEMONS.”), she’s often classified—by those who hate romance in anything—as one who write the romance genre. Much like Ilona Andrews, and my own St. Croix books.

          Romance is a genre—but it’s also an insult. Which only bolsters my point.

          – K.

    • What I’m hearing you say, and correct me if I’m wrong, is you think the women in romance novels are weak, in a sense? (Seriously, that’s just how I’m interpreting it, so if I AM wrong, please correct me.)

      I didn’t used to read romance, either, until a few years ago. I’ve always been big on literary fiction, and yes, the thought of reading romance embarrassed me. While I didn’t particularly think they were demeaning, I thought they were below my intelligence level. “I’ve got a college education!” I’d say. “I read important books!” I didn’t want to read about women picking apart their relationships and eating bon bons. Plus, who’d want to be caught dead holding a book with a bare-chested man and flowery script on the cover?

      And in case you’re wondering, yes, I really was that much of a snob, to the point where I’d snicker at other women and look down on them for reading romance novels.

      Then a coworker (who happens to be one of the smartest people I know) loaned me a stack of books, and I found a brand new genre to love.

      Yes, the primary aspect of a romance novel is the romantic relationship and all its challenges, but these women (and men!) often lead complex, fascinating lives. They put themselves in danger and they get themselves OUT of it. They run major corporations or tiny businesses. They don’t want a relationship but find ways to make it work WITHOUT losing themselves. In short, some of the strongest and most intriguing female protagonists I’ve read have been in romance and urban fantasy novels.

      To add to Karina’s list of authors: Suzanne Brockman, Kalayna Price, and Chloe Neill. Don’t knock ’em until you tried them.

      • I think it’s “weak” to spend your time worrying about relationships. And also boring.

        The first romance novels I read were about girls living in poverty who were saved by marriages to wealthy, much older men. The last romance novel I read was about a woman who thought she wasn’t interesting enough to keep her husband (which she wasn’t) and had to fight off another woman rather than get a fucking life.

        After a survey of about a dozen books like that, I feel I have enough information to make an informed decision.

        • Seriously after 12 books you know the entire genre? We’re they all harlequin novels? If the 1st 12 books of SFF I’d picked up were Kurt Vonegut, Elizabeth Bear, and a few of the other authors I’ve read I never would have found so many wonderful authors like David Weber, Mercedec Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, Faith Hunter, Jordan Weber.

          I’m flabbergasted.

        • Humans are weak and worry about their relationships. Good storytellers make it interesting.

          I don’t personally read romances or ‘chick lit,’ but I also don’t feel that the mere existance of the genres is in any way contributes to cultural oppression. There are books in any genere that are more problematic, and books that are helpful. There will be compelling books and bad books.

          It’s fine if you don’t want to like them or read them. It’s your reading time and you’re not obligated to read anything you don’t want to. But it doesn’t make sense to tell a female romance novelist that the fact that she writes romance is oppressive to female authors who write in other genres. That doesn’t make any sense.

          • Actually, I just realized I’ve recently read a fantasy romance novel and it was fantastic. I hadn’t realized it was a romance going into it, but I loved it.

            The main characters were fully developed, the plot was exciting. There were no simpering helpless women waiting to be whisked away. There was no ‘now that we’re married life is cherries.’ There was no ‘how does he really feel about me.’

          • That’s not what I’m responding to. It’s her assertion that if people don’t take her work personally it’s because they’re sexist. Maybe they don’t take her work seriously because they don’t like that kind of book, and their preferences have nothing to do with gender.

            It’s like the worst form of fake feminist bullshit to cry sexism when people aren’t interested in the type of work that you do.

            She’s just being a bully.