Re: Thanks

Date: 2011-03-24 03:56 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
‘I don't think we're going to be able to agree about whether women are able to have unconscious biases privileging their own experience, so I'm not going to argue that point. I think the things I've observed can be put down to marketplace pressures rather than unconscious bias.’

I don’t think we’re going to agree on a lot of things. Reading your post I definitely pulled out the feeling that you support ideas that boys and girls have different personality traits and interests that are natural to each sex (girls like pink, boys like blue etc). I don’t know if how I read that is correct, but if it is then we’re coming from two very different centres on issues surrounding these two sexes and we’re not going to agree unless one of us changes our mind totally. That’s ok though, because I’m not seeking to convert you to my arguments, I just want to address the logical problems I see with your argument in a space I feel comfortable in.

‘To wit: My YA novel How Ya Like Me Now was rejected by several publishers before finding a nice home at FSG. (With a female editor, Janine O'Malley, who has done tons of largely thankless work to get the best possible work out of me). The reason they all gave was that the protagonists are male, and boys don't read. This seemed like a kind of cyclical argument to me.

I've been asked several times to tone down what seemed like authentic portrayals of my teenage male characters' sexuality because revealing those thoughts "makes them unappealing to female readers." ...
As I said, this can totally be explained by market concerns, but it does seem to reflect an environment in which publishers are convinced boys don't read and therefore tailor their product to meet their perceived audience.’

Yes I agree with you that publishers probably are making the same kind of assumptions (often stereotypical) about boys as a cultural group as they do about every other cultural group in existence. I would accept that argument as a reality. I mean I would want to see some data and interrogate it. I would be seriously interested in why so many men roll out for these arguments when it’s about women in a position of power following stereotypical gendered marketing models and they don’t turn up to support girls, or women, when men are following these models. I’d like a really close look to be taken at ideas about what boys ‘can’ read and enjoy. But the idea that boys can also be let down by stereotypical practises is not exactly a new idea to me (although I’m more used to applying these ideas to how discussions about ‘what boys are’ exclude non-traditional boys from male culture).

Female publishers have to bring in the money, in the same way that male ones do and the money figures may well seem to suggest that the money says to market towards girls, just as it supposedly says everyone should market to white, straight, cisgendered people (which is again wrong). At this point publishers may make their assumptions about what girls want and decide to produce more narratives that fit ideas about traditional female interests.

What I objected to about the argument in your original post was that you didn’t seem to be talking about this at all. Your argument seemed to be that women in publishing create books that are tailored to what girls naturally need in an effort to advance their own biased pro-female agenda. What you seemed to be saying in your post (and this could be one of the dickish things you meant to apologise for, I can’t know because you’re not specific) was that women and girls are complicit in making the perceived idea that the YA market wants only traditionally feminine stories into a reality in order to push female culture into a position of dominance. They are not, this perceived market is a stereotypical, gendered fantasy that people in power feel they have to buy into and use bad, circular rhetoric to justify and reinforce (to an extent) by presenting book buyers with a less than diverse choice of books. Women in publishing may buy into this perception because it looks like a financially justified model and keep it in existence because they like money coming into their business, but they’re not doing so because they want consciously or unconsciously want girls to have tons of good shit and boys to have nothing, which is what you seemed to be suggesting. Girls reading are doing nothing to actively keep this model in place, they are just reading what (often everything) they can get their hands on. The results would be the same for boys reading and that would suck, neither of these reasoning methods would be a good reason to keep from publishing books boys might enjoy, but I just had to address that the way you seem to be framing the reasoning behind women’s decisions in publishing seemed illogical and pretty much like someone adding a fictional feminist agenda into the argument and reacting against it.

I’ve already shown the logical limits of the idea that all women are pro-women and in next week’s post I’ll be disputing that all girls need and want certain exclusive things in their books in order to enjoy them. I believe that girls are, as Maureen Johnson said the other day, omni-readers. There is also a lot of ideas about how nature and culture function in creating how girls and boys read which I need to unpack behind your arguments (and other people’s arguments), before I can show a really strong complete picture of the logic behind why I think these arguments are flawed, which is why there are five parts to this series. In future posts I go on to talk about my belief that although boys need representation in literature, as every cultural group does, they can also enjoy novels which are not traditionally male-centred, but cultural constructs keeps them from also exploring their enjoyment of these novels at the same time that they explore their enjoyment of novels that represent traditional male culture. In order to fit these remarks into a comment space I’ve had to respond to some of your stuff in a way that might imply I agree with general ideas about boys as a homogenous cultural group, what all boys like and boys liking exclusively traditionally masculine culture is natural. I do not think these things and have addressed them in later posts which contain too much to retype here (and would require duplication of effort), but if you have time you might come back and read on, if not, fair enough we all have limited time.

‘(Though this could also be part of YA's self-censorship problem, something I wrote thoughtfully, calmly, and non-provocatively about and most of the internet roundly ignored.’

I think the idea that some YA publishers are shy about including depictions of certain kinds of sexuality is a good point. On a vaguely related, but not totally related point I’d like to say that in my final post I’ll be talking about how we hear a lot about this in a general sense (good) and in relation to male characters (good) but little about it in relation to female characters (bad). I can’t remember the last time I read a recently published YA book that talked about female masturbation, or spent time on periods. I also can’t think of the last time I saw a group of men and women talk about that missing facet of YA.

I think the fact that you have previously addressed other issues thoughtfully is irrelevant to what we’re talking about here. I tend to think I’m a pretty decent person who addresses social issues with as much care as I can, but were I to say something thoughtless and offensive tomorrow I would have done that too. One does not cancel out the other. I understand that in your apology post you’re making a separate argument about how you think the internet privileges negative content, but we’re not talking about that here.

‘Finally, after most of my books have failed to gain any traction in the YA blogosphere, the one with the pink cover with the heart on it is getting tons of review coverage (sadly, it's not gathering the universal adulation that we writers hope for, but oh well).’

Personally I find the idea that, because of being female, I and the majority of my sex might be naturally influenced to buy a book because its cover uses a traditionally gendered colour so...tiring. The fact that you’re reinforcing this idea by saying that the sales of your book with the pink cover sold better than any other would take a long time to properly unpack but here is one argument to consider. There are many, many, many variables that physically separate this book from your other books (as individual titles, not just as a group of books that haven’t sold so well) apart from the cover. The title is just one of them. There are also variables that come from outside of the book like how visible you were in different areas when you wrote your first book, compared with how visible you might be now. It is incredibly hard to measure which of these variables made this book more popular, which is part of why we get stereotyped marketing endeavours that rely on assumptions about correlations between sex of buyers and interest in certain products, or aspects of a product. And yet you go straight to the cover is pink, the book is getting more sales, girls read and buy more (maybe you have stats that more girls than boys are buying this book and that more girls are buying this than your previous books), hence girls like pink.

And what you seem to be saying in these comments is that the stereotypes publishers use about boys not reading are based on circular logic (don’t publish books with male protagonists, because boys don’t read), but when a marketer in publishing use similar stereotypical and circular arguments about girls liking pink these arguments are in your opinion proven to be correct. Do you see my problem with this logic?

You’ve creating an argument that claims stereotypical prejudice against one sex specific group at your blog, then come here and made a stereotypical link between pink and girls interests. While using these stereotypical assumptions here isn’t a factor that affects your argument over there (although obviously I still don’t agree with it) I’ve got to say I find it pretty depressing that you would do that. I don’t have enough science to coherently explain why the idea that most girls like pink naturally is wrong and I have future posts coming up about the link between traditional gender traits and culture so I will leave it at that.
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