Thursday, June 23, 2005

Your Books Don't Make Sense To Me So We Don't Need Them

Dumb questions like this always fuck me off:

Do we need gender exploration books any more? Do they have anything left to say to us?

Oh, sweet fucking fuck.

My response:

Is this a rhetorical question?

I assume the primary writer being evoked with the statement "how rotten the world is because it has men in it," likely refers to Joanna Russ (of course, there's the famous Tiptree line from The Women Men Don't See "Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You'll see.", so I suppose Tiptree must have been one of those man-haters, too, right? Or maybe she just foresaw a neoconservative American future. Not too far off the mark, some might one day say), in which case, I don't know that a fair reading of Russ has been had, but one interpreted by a biased (likely male - oh yea, I'm making assumptions) reader who was so offended about all of the complaints women had about how they were treated (by men and other women) that he got offended and threw the book across the room.

And I'd argue that "gender exploration" was "new" in the 70s, not the 80s. "The Left Hand of Darkness" came out in 1969/1970. The 80s was the era of Heinlein, in which women were great fuckbuddies ideal for covorting with men in multiple parings, but cardboard in the actual character as living-breathing-human sense.

Safe light, I absolutely agree that it'd be cool to see more people (men & women) exploring issues relating to masculinity as well - "gender" is *not* the synonym for "women" that so many people appear to think it is. When we talk about "exploring gender" and "gender cliches" it shouldn't be confined to "cliches about women."

There are a shitload of cliches and social mores ascribed to men as well, and I've met a shitload of men who find those roles incredibly stifling and don't believe that they fit into them at all.

Widmanstatten - I don't think that in the realm of SF, the nature vs. nurture debate we're always in the process of screaming about has much relevance. What I want to read are those writers who are able to push past current debate and go, "Well, fuck it. What if things were really different?"

What bone-headed Summers has to same about my ability to put 2 & 2 together because I have a uterus would be incredibly dull to put into a current SF story.


Cause that's right now. Cause that's the world I already live in. I already live in a place where fucktards make assumptions about who I am and what I can do based on the fact that I bleed once a month.

I've already seen these ideas about what the sex of a person means in regards to their social role in this society. I fucking live it every day. I've been told my womb makes me stupid a hundred thousand times from a hundred thousand different blowhards.

And it bores me.

I want somebody to think outside the box (and, as David pointed out, there are indeed writers who do this, and there's a great starting list there); I don't want to hear the same boring arguments about how men are "naturally" rapists and killers and women are "naturally" passive nurturers.

SF/F drew me because when I was younger I realized it was the best place to really explore how things could be different, the place where you could say, "Sure, things are this way now, but what would have to change/be conceptualized differently for things to *not* be this way?"

*That's* the challenge, that's the allure of the genre for me, taking me somewhere new where people can express themselves in alternate ways, where society can be shaped differently, where biology does *not* equal destiny... and never did.

That's why I love this genre, and that's why there will *always* be a place in SF for questioning what makes us human, and how our bodies and societies can transcend these rigidly defined categories: women and men, that aren't rigid at all in actual practice.

If you're not finding anything that challenges that, you've either not looked over the Tiptree selections, or there are not enough people writing it who are being published mainstream. In which case, there's either a dearth of writers thinking outside the box (a bit doubtful) or editors who aren't seeing something that speaks to them (true, though if you're looking for a place for your gender-bending, we've got Strange Horizons for that, in which case you can't blame your subject matter for rejections, only the quality of your story :) ).

Yea, we need more genderbending fiction, but it also may need a better marketing strategy -

Stories that fly too far outside the box often freak publishers out, because there's a deep fear that there's no market for it.

My suggestion?

Market it to women. Try tearing off the 14-year-old white male audience template and pushing the idea that SF/F is where you're gonna get to live outside the world of Larry Summers and the "girls are physically and mentally weak" world and enter, say, Buffyland.

Wow. That just might work (ha ha).

You may even interest a shitload of aforementioned guys who live outside the boxes, too.

But for better or worse, there's a reason that much of SF/F (some of the bestselling stuff) is considered a comfort food. It's conservative. It's token. It's Heinlein giving us polyamory but populating his work with female stick figures.

It reassures old ideals about what everybody's place is, and how the world works.

It's a dangerous place for a gosh-wow genre to be.

So, fuck it, what do gender-bending books and stories of the non-comfort kind have to say to us?

The same thing they said to Joanna Russ, the reason she started writing it:

"Things can be really different."

2 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Well said. 

Posted by Hal Duncan

Anonymous said...

Damn straight. If you can't have alternative visions of reality in SF what the hell is it for anyway? To just recapitulate all the BS here and now with different scenery? That's an outlook that's pretty damn constraining and indicative of a painful lack of imagination.

The conservative cast of much of the stuff is not only culture and 'boy' bound, it's due to having the same basic audience for the past 50 years. Something's got to change, right?  

Posted by VJ