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Sunday, 16 June 2013

I never knew books had testicles? A few thoughts on the gender brouhaha.

The SF and Fantasy world has been in an uproar this week, over this. (The latest unbelievable WTF moment comes courtesy Theodore Beale. Jim Hines has a pretty excellent post on this creature, but don't click on the links in that unless your idiot tolerance is higher than mine.)
There've been a lot of people screaming that the cries of sexism were unfair, and the authors themselves responded in a post that pretty much exacerbated the whole damn mess, to be honest. My view? If you have to pick physical attributes about writers, and you're being non-sexist, where are the comments about male authors stunning good looks and movie-star charisma? Their tight buns and manly chests, and comparisons to Ken dolls and He-Man? Why is there even a "lady-writer" and "lady-editor" distinction? I mean, I don't particularly care what an author looks like, or whether they're male, female, or both. I don't care which gender they identify with, and I don't care what their race, religion or sexual orientation is. I care about story.
Then the blog-spots came out. Female writers telling stories about being marginalised, insulted, and humiliated at Cons. And the hate mail that they got for speaking out; like Ann Aguire. And I was floored, because I never, ever, expected gender to be an issue with my writing. Never.
I've dealt with the misogyny BS my entire life in other areas; from my first job where the sales manager thought it was hysterically funny to grope me in his office, (right up until I punched him and got a warning for it) to the guys who would tell me, in all seriousness, that I should be at home making babies instead of selling ironmongery in a hardware store. One of the reasons I consider myself very, very lucky at my current job is that nobody on my team gives a damn about what I have in my pants. They care about me doing my job, and doing it well. There is no glass ceiling in that organisation that I can see; or if there is, it's been well camoflauged. Half of senior management is female, and we have every race, religion and colour you can think of working side-by-side. I love that about it.
I grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy by female and male writers. Ursula Leguin, Joan Aiken, Vonda M McIntyre, C J Cherryh are just a few of the names off the top of my head. It never occurred to me that they might have been considered lesser writers because they didn't posses a penis. As far as I know, even male writers use a keyboard, their brain and heart to write with. I'm fairly sure typing with testicles would be awkward, and possibly painful.
When I started publishing, and reached out to fellow writers and bloggers, I never had the gender issue thrown back at me. Then again, I publish using my initials, mainly because I wanted to keep the writing career separate to a small degree from my work life. (It's an open secret; pretty much everyone I work with knows I write. A couple of them have even read my books:)) The whole gender thing never occurred to me.
My twitter handle is the same, and I'd been on there a couple of months before I realised some people thought I was guy. (To be honest, I thought that was quite funny. Still do.) And when I pointed out that I was a girl, and yes, I had boobies, and yes, I still write the same books, I didn't have any issues. Nobody came back and called me the Downfall of Writing because of my ovaries. Which is good, because my ovaries don't write my books either; I think that would outweigh testicle typing in terms of inconvenience and pain.


I've never been to a con. I keep meaning to go, but the timing and finances have never co-operated. My friend and fellow writer, Anne-Mhairi-Simpson, regularly goes to the UK cons and has a blast. She hasn't mentioned anything about stalkers, harassment or the
general unpleasantness others have come across, so I don't know if that's even a thing here in the UK. I'd be surprised if it wasn't; it's a sad fact that most females will put up with a certain level of dickish behaviour because we've done it all our lives. (That doesn't make it right. It just means it happens so frequently and so often we no longer process it, like the fact that if you go out and it rains, your shoes get wet. Unpleasant, and unavoidable, but at a low level tolerable and forgettable.)  So I can't speak from personal experience regarding cons.

Apparently, judging from some of the comments I've seen, there's a good chance readers won't pick up my books because I'm female. I'd like to think the average reader is more intelligent than that, because thinking my writing is inferior because I'm female is not just insulting my girl parts, it's insulting your own intelligence. 

Books don't have testicles or ovaries. They don't frantically hump each other in the library after lights-out to make new books. That's left up to the writers. (Making new books, I mean. I pretty much don't care who my favourite authors are getting down with either, as long as they write in other moments.)

At the end of the day, story is what counts. Story is everything. Story has no gender, no race, no religion. It transposes those barriers; it brings a meeting of minds across distance and time and nationality. It takes us down the rabbit hole, and if your first concern is whether your rabbit is a boy or a girl, you have issues that no story will ever touch.