There is a meme going around facebook, an innocuous little question of “What was the last female writer you read, and the book?”
It’s very popular and being echoed all over. It’s also a good example of how people think when they get rats in their head.
“But, Sarah,” you say, “why would you object to being introduced to authors you might not have heard of?”
Brother! This is not how book recommendations and word of mouth happen. First, with few exceptions, no one in mixed company is going to admit to having spent the entire night awake reading something called “The Sinner” (a romance) or “Three For the Chair” (a mystery) or even “Martians Go Home.” Instead they will mention the sort of book people buy and leave sitting around on their coffee table to look smart or caring or whatever it is society values this week.
Word of mouth book recommendations are far more targeted. They’re done by people who know you or at least know what you like to read. Even I, who read almost anything, have stuff I will not read. One of them is insufferably stuffy books my kids were forced to read in school. I couldn’t read them even to give them help with studying them. In fact, I’d rather have a root canal than read most of those. The other one is zombie fiction. I truly don’t care if your zombie book is a masterpiece. I don’t read zombies because yuck. (Actually I don’t read most horror. Not because I’m squeamish: I can write blood, guts and wading through both of those scenes. I just don’t enjoy being either grossed out or scared. So reading horror would be fatuous.) You can recommend me those till you’re blue in the face. I still ain’t gonna read them.
However, if it were “What was the last writer” or even new writer “you read and the book?” the meme would be merely stupid and vacuous.
It is far worse than that . “The last FEMALE writer” you read. This is because female writers are supposed to be discriminated against. Statistically (if you look at it sideways and squint) females get reviewed less than males, and this leads to their selling less than males and this leads– Excuse me. I’ll dissect this nauseating fallacy later. First tell me the last book you read where you gave a good goddamn about the author’s sex.
Unless you are reading true accounts of childbirth or of surviving testicular cancer, if you were specifically looking at the gender of the name on the cover, you’ve got rats in your head.
The first rat is a cute and fluffy baby rat that leads you to believe that the name on the cover has anything to do with the gender of the author – but we’ll let that go by.
We’ll let it go by because the big rat is stinky and dropping pellets all over the culture, and will destroy us if we don’t trap him and kill him. It’s stained with the blood of millions and it’s called Marxism.
One of the things Marxism does is treat people as widgets. Take me. Female, Portuguese origin, married, mother of two, liberal arts post-graduate degree. I’m supposed to be exactly the same as anyone else with those characteristics. You should be able to pop me out of this blog and pop someone with those same exact characteristics in my place, and they’re supposed to be indistinguishable. (Stop laughing. It’s impolite to laugh at the mentally afflicted.)
No? How no? What is the purpose then of all these comparisons “more men get reviews,” and “More men are bestsellers” and—
Even if those are true (some of them are for certain fields) what makes you think they’re fixable? Or that they should be fixed? Or that there is anything to fix?
Look up there to where, no, you can’t pop me out of this blog and pop someone else in its place and have it be the same. So, let’s suppose – don’t I wish – my blog became one of the most popular on the internet. Does this mean that Females of Portuguese origin, married, with two children and a liberal arts degree are being discriminated FOR in blogging. No? Why not?
The second rat is “diverse thinking.” First of all there is the unexamined, cute, fluffy rat that says “diversity is strength.” This is a shibboleth that’s never been proven, anywhere at all. In fact, I can give you plenty of examples where diversity was the downfall or at least a serious handicap to a society. But it is an almost adorable rat compared to the true repulsive idea that you can get more diversity of ideas by getting more PHYSICAL diversity. This idea is something Hitler would have loved. No, I’m not breaking Godwin. I’m simply being factual. The whole idea behind the eugenics movement that was all the rage when Hitler came to power (and not just the rage in Germany, btw. If you think that, you have more than rats in your head) was that culture was inherited and inhered to your racial ancestry. The white race was this and this and this, and the Black race was this and this and this. And the pink race with polka dots was this and this and this.
THAT was the brilliant idea that filled the ovens with human beings. The Marxists were so scared people would be repulsed by the results that for a while, they hid their “scientific governance, by the numbers” under The Worker Class and the Capitalist Class and the Intellectual Class – instead of calling them by race names (Both are constructs, in case you wonder. Particularly in a blended society like the US.)
But it is impossible to run a society by the numbers without always coming back to the same primal sin of treating people as things. Because if Bob over there is an exemplary person and Joe is a terrible person, there’s no way the government can equalize that. But if Bob is rich and Joe is poor, the government can take money from Bob to give to Joe. And if Bob is white and Joe is black, you just won the support of all the black people who aren’t doing very well monetarily (most white people aren’t either. It is a characteristic of doing exceptionally well that few people do that.) Not just because you might also give them money like you gave Joe, but because – by claiming that the reason Joe didn’t succeed was a social injustice and invisible racism – you gave them an excuse for failing (and most people, anywhere, under any regime, fail.)
It is perhaps no wonder, then, that this big stinky rat of an idea has got fixated on women, the minority that isn’t. I mean, how much more virtuous can you get than by supporting the majority of people, while claiming you’re fighting discrimination?
So people take to the statistics and examine how many women are mega bestsellers, and how many women get reviews and how many women…
This shows that women are discriminated against and then the drumbeat starts for “how many female writers have you read today?”
Rats. Or perhaps hamster. I think if you lean close to those brains, you can hear the hamster wheel squeaking.
First, where are those statistics coming from, and exactly what is taken in account? The last three major popular successes, pushed under everyone’s noses and talked about on every blog, magazine and show that cares about culture and books are… Harry Potter, Twilight and Fifty Shades, all of them in fact written by women.
Almost every romance published is written by women. So is most of the fantasy. Quite a few of the historicals, unless they’re military history, are written by women. A good number of the Christian books (a huge part of the market) are written by women.
Now, almost every thriller, almost every hard sf, almost every adventure story and police procedure seems to be written by men.
So – how come most bestsellers/most reviewed, etc. are men? Isn’t that unfair?
Lies, damn lies and statistics. Writing (except for Romance) used to be a mostly male profession. You could tell there was actual prejudice against women writing, in say SF, because women wrote under male pen names. (In romance there is prejudice against males and most people still write under a female pen name.)
Writing was a male profession when you could make a living from it and back when women were not expected to make a living. By the time I came into the field, unless you were willing to do what I did and engage in EXTREME writing, you made ON AVERAGE five thousand a year. And the funny thing about social expectations is that they cut both ways. Given that writing doesn’t make a living wage, most men could not engage in it. They couldn’t engage in it long enough o even break in, let alone try to get big. A woman can stay home with the kids (or even just stay home) and though in our crazy society that incurs some societal censure it is nothing like the censure incurred by a man who stays home and is supported by his wife. (Yes, I know some brave souls do it, but they’re rare.)
When I came into the field 90% of the new authors making it in fell in one of three categories: women, gay men, academics – i.e. people who could have other means of support while they pursued their art. Of this, by and far the largest contingent was women. (Who often overlapped with academics.)
This has been a fact of life for the last fifteen years. However, there are still some remnants from the ancient regime back when it was mostly a male profession. They’re old and having stayed in the field long, revered. They’re mostly best sellers and widely reviewed.
There is another effect. Think back on the first women that broke the gender barrier in science fiction. They were almost instantly notable. Why? Because they had to make an extraordinary effort to break in. This is going to select for driven individuals, who immediately will do better than the run of the mill “followed the usual path, had an easy time getting in.”
The males in my generation – particularly those supporting a family at the time, like Dave Freer – who broke in, were strong enough and driven enough to come home and work at their dream after pursuing a full time career elsewhere. Do you wonder that they have more staying power than someone who was told “Just pursue your dream, dear, someone else will pay?”
Then add another layer. New York Publishing by definition has got the rat of Marxism in their heads. They always treated writers as widgets anyway. Round the mid seventies, early eighties they realized that they had more widgets with outies than innies, and they decided to correct it the usual way. “Buy more women” the cry went out. And in came not only a barrage of women who had an easier time breaking in than men, but of women who were told what kept them out had been discrimination. And who, therefore, hated the field they were getting into, because those meanies had kept them out. Out came an outpouring of “poor me female” writing. Which in the early nineties caused me to snarl at a Barnes & Noble, “I wish someone would pass a law forbidding women from writing.” After I’d walked up and down a fantasy shelf and found NOT ONE novel that wasn’t about some abused high-magic chick whose father was a monster.
Here we digress from writing in general to genre writing. It will shock you to realize that different genres appeal to different people, right? In general romance – by and far the blockbuster of genres – appeals to women. I know this shocks you, since women are not at all by evolution designed for being fascinated with relationships. This doesn’t mean men don’t read it. I know several men who read Romance (and no, it has nothing to do with their orientation) but the proportions are so grossly skewed that if you see someone in public with a romance novel and can’t see what gender they are, you can take a safe bet it’s a woman. At the other end of this, military fiction is read mostly by men.
I can tell you as a female reader and writer that from my teens I was upset by the assumption that whatever I was reading was OF COURSE a romance. Ditto for what I was writing. To this day total strangers assume I write romances or (I DO have an accent) children’s picture books.
The ridiculous equalizers of author genders ALWAYS concentrate on those that appeal least to women. Say, thrillers, or science fiction. (Why don’t they try to get more men in romance? Why do they devalue a female way of seeing the world, which always centers on relationships? Are they anti-woman?)
The problem with trying to equalize the innies and outies is that you get people who aren’t going to appeal to the genre’s majority readers. For instance the attempt to bring in more “sf” writers of the right physical configuration gave us science fiction that rotates around someone’s belly button. (There is a difference between novels about colonizing a world, even with strong character development, and novels about someone angsting over colonizing a world, so that the book could take place entirely in my laundry room and there would be no difference.) This meant readers – male and female – who liked SF as it was left in droves. The same for those who liked adventure fantasy but were tired of the female-revenge-fantasy woven in.
Of course these things shake out, they always do. By the time I came in, NY publishing had got the idea that somehow their experiment had been less than successful. Of course, since the rat was still spinning in their head, the only thing they could think – and which was told to me over and over – was “Women can’t write science fiction.” Which is why Darkship Thieves was unpublished for thirteen years, while they pushed me to write fantasy. Other gems I was told were that “you don’t write like a woman” – this was said derogatorily by the way – to which I probably shouldn’t have responded that no, that part of my anatomy was grossly unsuited for typing. That my women were insufficiently “strong” (by which they meant that they fell in love with men.) That I couldn’t write gay males because that was stealing victimhood and because gay men weren’t transparent to people who didn’t share the experience (to which one of my gay friends said he was glad he wasn’t transparent, he’d hate for me to be seeing what he ate for lunch.)
That is, the people who treat people like widgets, all in the name of equality, were telling me what I could or could not write, because my thought wasn’t conforming to their ideas. I.e. it was too “diverse.” That is, all of the above was “bad widget, bad. Fall into your category.”
Again, the primary sin behind this entire meme is treating people as things. The secondary sin is expecting physical characteristics to dictate the way I think.
Do my experiences have a lot to do with who I am as a writer (and a person)? Sure they do. How many of those are experiences only a woman can have? I can think only of being pregnant and giving birth. (And a man who is sufficiently connected to his wife, or who has asked a lot of friends could write those as convincingly as most women. I mean a lot of them are physiological.)
But doesn’t my experience of going through life as a woman, of relating to men as a woman, etc. color how I write? Sure they do. But I have enough male friends and enough imagination to write men convincingly too.
So should you read my books because they give you an experience of what it’s like to be female?
I write science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical. You should read those for the joy of reading those. And my books should be enough to hold you and get you to buy the next one whether the name on the cover is Sarah Hoyt or Joe Smith. (How DO you know I don’t write as Joe Smith? I could if I wanted to.)
If you’re picking my books because they have a female name on the cover, forcing yourself to read them to prove you’re not sexist, and hating every minute, that makes you LESS likely to pick up the next female author.
Writers are not their books. There are men who write women better than women do. And there are women who write men better than men do.
And the books should stand on their own.
Everything else is rat droppings. Big stinky rats with blood on their teeth.