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Balancing the Scales – Read More Female Authors in 2014

It Imagination by kelleybean86still astounds me sometimes that the literary world is not equal, that people are necessarily inclined to undertake a specific effort in reading more books by female authors, that women in the genre are still treated as though they don’t belong. Somewhere along the line, it became a bad thing to be a female writer—and woe betide the “lady writer” at the convention talking about her “lady books” with her “lady agent” in earshot of a real (read as: manly) writer and his armful of real books.

People throw out honeyed barbs at women who write SFF under the heading of Paranormal Romance, as though the genre is somehow lesser than their mighty fantasy epics and sweeping space operas; as if writing about vampires and werewolves is somehow a second place ranking of being an author, behind the big boys and their serious toys. Never mind the fact that guys write romance, too, only supposedly we wrap it up in layers of sword and sorcery and saving the damsel in distress; never mind the fact that guy writers present the dreaded and feared “insta love” with a heroine falling haplessly in love with the budding hero farm-boy within seconds of being rescued by him. Surely nobody’s ego needs fluffing up that much? And any woman who dares to write science fiction is clearly going to absolutely shatter the foundations of the genre, polluting it with womanly things such as emotion, romance and internal conflict.

Book Werm by Kristin KestFunny, then, that the majority of books I read are actually by women. Are my foundations being shaken? Should I stand inside the nearest door threshold in preparation for the coming womapocalypse and the devastating earthquakes it will bring? All I’m feeling from here are the pleasant waves of a genre expanding in all the right directions; towards SFF that is forced away from the gratuitous violence and non-consensual sex permeating some offshoots of the genre, towards depictions of women that are clad in the same protective armour as the men they fight alongside when toddling off to save the world.

I’ve said so many times before that society affects the literature of the time—of course it does—and if you look at the current social and political climates, with all the impossibly dense and unbelievable opinions regarding women sprouting up like mouldy mushrooms here and there, it’s not really difficult to see how some of that has stained the genre. Maybe much of it is lack of education—maybe much of it isn’t. It’s silly really, that say, ten years ago (I can’t go much further back than that, I’m afraid!), there didn’t seem to be as much of an Attitude towards women as there is now (yep, that’s getting capitalised: it deserves it): at least, how I grew up, how my school and my peers acted towards women and women in media—it wasn’t like this. But then maybe I got the good crowd.

Robin HobbMy favourite writer is actually a woman. I’m sure that is the same for many geek guys who read SFF. What about Robin Hobb and her loyal fanbase? People are crazy about Robin Hobb. It seems to me that some writers escape the maelstrom of negativity by virtue only of when they were published. Hobb’s been around a while—she predates my reading of fantasy, in fact. Ten or so years ago, perhaps there were not as many female writers, but the ones who were producing excellent genre literature were not attacked for a lack of something down below. After all, novels aren’t written with a you-know-what (I don’t write with mine, in any case!), so what bearing should it have on the treatment or reception of the novel or its writer?

It is, of course, entirely possible that the readers who might take issue with an author’s gender might not have realised that Robin Hobb is a Robin with female attributes instead of male. An easy mistake…Until you read the author’s “about” of course.

I have read stories about the treatment of women at conventions and even their own readings (whether at conventions or otherwise), where their validity as an author is questioned. Sometimes, whilst their nicely printed published novel is sitting on the table next to them, witnessing the odd exchange of man assuring an author that she isn’t a real writer. One might assume that the bookstore hosting the signing or the lanyard stating “guest” might be enough to prove otherwise. But, no.

WOMEN WARRIORS by roxinationWomen still get boatloads of flack and harassment and flat-out hate for so much as daring to put pen to paper and produce brilliant and saleable novels. Never mind the treatment of female characters by men. When non-consensual sex is used in place of real development and women are constantly saved, directed and led by men, we’ve got to the stage, again—much like the treatment of LGBT issues previously covered—where people need a reality check. Just take a look at the world—filter out anything religion, politics or social stereotypes tell you—and just look at the people, at the women, around you. You’ll find women who do, naturally, fit in with the traditionally presented idea of a woman staying at home whilst the man goes off to save the world—but you’ll find a guy who’s quite content to bake bread whilst his leather-armour clad (boiled cuirass, if you’re wondering, actually) wife is polishing her not insubstantial armoury.

I have seen a lot of people tweeting and blogging about endeavouring to read an equal balance of books, specifically being mindful of the name on the book. I think this is at once admirable—and a little sad. It’s sad because it’s a shame it’s necessary at all. Kudos to those who have looked at their reading habits and realised that the scales are weighted one way instead of being somewhat balanced. Ironically, mine tip the other way. If I list the authors I’ve read this year, my scales tell a different story. I read 25 female authors (authors, not books) and 9 male authors. That’s a definite tip of the scales!

Pie ChartI think as people are considering what reading challenges to set themselves for 2014, they might, too, be mindful of the gender of the writers they’re looking to add to those shopping lists, wishlists or library loan requests. You don’t have to set out to read fifty-fifty (heck, mine is nowhere near that!), but maybe, if you realise you don’t read many books by female authors (and sometimes even women are unaware of this, too, reading what is popular and recommended without even considering gender), try and read more. It’s just like trying to eat more veggies: it’s easy and definitely good for you. Same old, same old is boring. Don’t be boring this year. Have at it, and see if you can’t even out those scales.

Furthermore, with 2013 having been a bit of a terrible year for feminism and the treatment of women in the real world (I know I couldn’t even keep up, some countries suggest policy so fast!), and some of those attitudes and perceptions having spilled through into how we read and receive fictional women and settings, a great way to combat that and plant some good seeds in all that bad soil is to go the other way. The other way is so much more fun, trust me.

I Heart Books by refashionedIt’s an embarrassing time to be a guy in the genre community, with so much appalling behaviour having gone down, on a fairly frequent/large scale, this year. But as I can’t knock some sense into the dullards who still insist on calling female authors “lady writers”, I’ll just read their incredible books, instead. At the end of the day, a book is a book is a book, regardless of who wrote it—and damn but I love books.

We all do.

Title image by EvasPhotogarden.

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14 Comments

  1. Avatar JC Crumpton says:

    I started reading fantasy and science fiction in the eighties: Tanith Lee, Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lynn Abbey, Katherine Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris, Louise Cooper, Carole Nelson Douglas, Jennifer Roberson, Elizabeth Moon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C.J. Cherryh, Tanya Huff, Anne McCaffrey, Sheri S. Tepper, Patricia Wrede, Janny Wurts, Jane Yolen and Melanie Rawn among many others.

  2. Bravo. Leo! Couldn’t agree more. I think some readers are missing out by dismissing or denigrating novels by women. Could they be scared? Perhaps the women in the novels can look good, think, fight and lead the action? And perhaps they talk to another woman and drive the narrative through together without thinking about that night’s date or what shoes to wear. Is that possible? Cue the Bechdel test.

    Women dare to write male characters well: Anne Lyle, Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffery and Margaret Attwood. How scary is that?

    Being serious for a moment, women write differently, often looking below the swords and sorcery and into the emotional side of a character’s motivation and responses.This can be deep and complex ground, not for everybody, but just as fascinating as a well-described battle scene on a fantastical plain.

    Loke the rather silly snobbery about literary v. genre, let’s try and get over the male v. female writers thing in 2014. Please.

  3. Avatar Anne Leonard says:

    This: “never mind the fact that guy writers present the dreaded and feared “insta love” with a heroine falling haplessly in love with the budding hero farm-boy within seconds of being rescued by him.” Thank you!! If a woman includes a love story the book gets seen as a romance; if a man writes a love story, it’s the triumph once again of masculinity.

  4. Avatar Isabel says:

    I read a bajillion books a year, it feels like. Most books I read are by female authors, not because I have anything against male authors, but because those happen to be the books I pick up. Still, I always enjoy reading a book written by a male. Heck, most of the time, I can’t tell the difference. Writing is writing and books are books. I will love a book not by the name on the cover, but the content inside, and that’s all there is to it. If a book has content I don’t like, I’ll put it aside, no matter the gender. After the wave of hate I’ve been seeing for female writers recently, thank you for writing this article!

  5. Well said good sir! It is sad that goes on in the genre community in regards to the gender of the author. I noticed there was so much talk on this specific topic while I was at World Con in San Antonio a few months ago. I couldn’t even believe that it was happening. I as a reader love books, I don’t care who writes them as long as they are good. I think its common for someone to gravitate towards a book written by a member of the same gender – and when that happens they are just missing out. It’s all well and good to try and make it a point to read more books by female authors and give them more of the fair chance that they deserve and don’t seem to be getting – but like you it saddens me so much that all of us have to make that conscious effort and point this out.

    I hope the treatment and feel towards female SFF writers changes soon. I heard so many people speak against this kind of discrimination at WorldCon and on the interwebs since then that it’s definitely giving me hope.

    I feel the same way about the genre / community stigma and bias against YA SFF writers. So many genre professionals snub their nose at the YA genre because why? Just because its written with teens in mind? What the frick folks, weren’t you once a teen yourself? And aren’t those the future readers of your oh so fabulous adult SFF books someday?

    By the way – just found you – sooooo going to be stalking you now! (My favorite old school female author definite Anne McAffrey …oh oh and Margaret Weis….muuuwhahaha

  6. Avatar infael says:

    I honestly don’t care about author gender. I care about the story. Robin Hobb is great. Margaret Weis is a goddess. Brandon Sanderson and RA Salvatore rock.

  7. Avatar Kama says:

    i’m guilty of reading mostly books by males. It just happens. the gender of the doesn’t bother me, the contents do.

    If it’s Rowling or Meyers – I hate it! Don’t even come close to me with them or any ya/na. Romance better be a SMALL part of the book, or I’ll throw the book to the trash can, most of the time. But I don’t like the ladies to be just damsels in distress also. I love Celia S. Friemdan (The Coldfire Trilogy). 🙂

  8. […] Balancing the Scales – Read More Female Authors in 2014 by Leo Elijah Cristea (Fantasy Faction) […]

  9. Avatar Meliannos says:

    Thank you for finally saying what my sister & I have been saying to each other for decades! We both love complex SFF books. We started out with MacAvoy, Norton, McCaffrey, etc. Neither if us reads bodice-rippers of any genre.
    I slogged my way through George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire & Ice series. (Did he assume the “RR” by copying Tolkien?) Including the deplorable 5th book, which was an insult to fans that waited SIX YEARS for another book in the series. This series over-amped my “This Could Only Be Written By A Guy” meter. In a word, gratuitous; over the top gormandizing, blood slinging/guts slithering, rape is cool/gang rape is better, women are 2-dimensional hankie-wavers as the men go do the REAL work, crap.
    The series I’m reading now is more egalitarian, but the books include many TCOBWBAG incidents. Perfect example: intimate setting, woman grasps man’s hand & places it in her breast. I’ve talked to every SFF-reading woman I know & none of them has ever done that. EVER. It’s totally a guy fantasy. When intimate situations occur in books written by women, that doesn’t happen. No doubt, someone will find a female author who uses that device, but it’s rare. As are the grunting, thrusting, licking, “putting sword in scabbard” & “plowing her furrow” references.
    There are simply more male authors in SFF, but I usually choose a female author. I’m not a prude & I enjoy erotica in SFF, but men generally stick to brutal fucks & even more gross depictions of filth, blood & gore that really are gratuitous.
    I would love to find books/series rich with the tension, texture & complexity of Fire & Ice, but without its excesses. If you know of them – please point them out to me!

  10. Well put. This is something I’ve been actively trying to do as of recent; looking forward to Robin Hobb and Kameron Hurley in particular.

  11. Avatar Erica says:

    Once I started participating in the online world of fantasy and science fiction forums, I was amazed at how many fans of the genre don’t read many female authors, and haven’t even heard of very many. I prefer secondary world fantasy, and I’d say that most of my favorite writers over the years have actually been women. I actually started making a conscious effort to include more males in my reading a few years back, and made rooms on my shelves for the likes of Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, and Pat Rothfuss. But then I noticed something sobering–most of the new writers of SF and secondary world fantasy I’ve been running across and having recommended to me online and by fellow fantasy fans are men. Most of those women I love–CJ Cheryh, Robin Hobb, Kate Elliot, Mercedes Lackey, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K Le Guin and so on have been writing for a long time.

    Where is the new generation of women writing epic fantasy for adults? As it turns out, they’re out there, but you have to dig more for them. People don’t seem to recommend them as often on writing sites, and their books aren’t pushed to the foreground as often in bookstores or by reviewers. I don’t know how much of this is because fewer women are writing epic/secondary world fantasy than there once was (perhaps newer women in the genre are interested in writing YA and urban, which I rarely read) versus some kind of sexism at work in a world where it’s harder and harder for new writers (aside from a skinny handful) of either gender to get noticed, but women are more likely to be overlooked.

    • Avatar Meliannos says:

      Same experience here. I think the young female writers are concentrating on the quick buck, sparkly vampire, good-guy werewolf books. I know I’m doing an injustice to Connie Willis, Michelle Sagara, Naomi Novik… but…smh…so far Connie Willis is the only one of this trio to do the complexity & imagery so well.
      I enjoy Caitlin Kittredge Black London & Nocturn City books, but they aren’t the deep SFF I crave. As I said, if you stumble over a great female author in SFF, please let me know!

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