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[personal profile] bookgazing
White, yellow and red book cover of Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution featuring an illustration of a llama

It's the start of July. I am trying to review Kameron Hurley's essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution. In my wisdom, I have decided an analysis of her essay, "I'll Make The Pancakes: On Opting In And Out of the Writing Game", would make a great entry point for my review. I reread it to remind myself of the piece's fundamental points:

The more women writers I read, from Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Toni Morrison, the less alone I felt, and the more I began to see myself as part of something more.

It wasn't about one woman toiling against the universe. It was about all of us moving together, crying out into some black, inhospitable place that we would not be quiet, we would not go silently, we would not stop speaking, we would not give in.

It's hard to see the keyboard when you're trying not to cry.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
"2014,", I said in 2013 (pretty arrogantly, in hindsight) "is going to be the year where I stay on top of short fiction!"

Friends, this was a complete fabrication. I'm a rotten, dirty liar.

Like every year before this, the sheer scope of the short fiction landscape first bemused me and then overwhelmed me. I did the same thing I've done the last four years. I gave it a shot early in the year, determined and hopeful, with a few short stories and a few different anthologies. I tried to read the stories that people mentioned on Twitter or their blogs. I failed out of multiple pieces because I felt ignorant and/or I couldn't figure out what the piece was saying. Eventually I gave up, figuring I'd use award seasons to find short fiction to read — people are always tossing around recommendations during that time.

Same old, same old. Read more... )
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[personal profile] helloladies
Today Gavia Baker-Whitelaw visits Lady Business to tell us more about exciting new publishing enterprise Big Bang Press as they prepare to publicly release their first title. Gavia is Managing Editor of Big Bang Press, a regular fandom reporter for The Daily Dot & maintains the popular costume design blog Hello Tailor. (We suspect she may also have developed cloning technology).

Big Bang Press logo

I'm the Managing Editor of Big Bang Press, and my job is to sell original novels by fanfic writers.

Basically, if you've ever read a fanfic and thought, "Holy crap, this writer is better than a lot of published authors," then that's where we come in. Read more... )
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[personal profile] helloladies
Lady Business+ cover art

Episode #7 — Courtney Schafer and Fandom

Grab your charms, your cloaks, and your protection against evil mages and join Renay and Courtney Schafer — author of the adventure fantasy The Whitefire Crossing and its sequel, The Tainted City — as they discuss science fiction and fantasy, genre divides, gender parity, conventions, favorite authors, terrifying mountain trips, and a little fandom history. Download the episode for terrifying anecdotes about eating bugs and deadly falling rocks.

Disclaimer and warning: this episode was recorded five thousand years ago in Internet time and both of us were suffering from the plague.

Follow us on twitter, tumblr, via RSS, or subscribe via iTunes.

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[personal profile] helloladies
Have you ever had one of those weeks where you open your RSS reader expecting a cute cat macro or Dinosaur Comic and instead been faced with The Establishment Partaking in Embarrassing and Disappointing Behavior...Again? It was one of those weeks! Luckily for me and my blood pressure, I scooped up KJ, Resident Awesome Librarian and my feminist mentor, to discuss the latest drama in a calm and rational manner that is inherently more readable than capslock and my muffled weeping.

KJ: And so once again we have evidence that the mainstream publishing industry is nervous about publishing books with gay characters. I have a feeling that we've been here before, and not that long ago, either. (The "Wicked Pretty Things" incident comes to mind.) But it's no surprise that this particular incident has taken the Internet by storm, because there's nothing the Internet likes better than people who go public, not to mention lists of books to read.

Renay: "Nervous" is a really kind term, which is why out of the two of us, I am Bad Feminist Cop With Rocket Launcher of Rage. It seems like we're having one of these disturbances every week now! It's starting to become a regular occurrence. This week, it is the shocking revelation that YA literature is alarmingly heterosexist! Surprise!

This is such a STARTLING REVELATION to everyone but those of us who are queer and quite aware that while we're supposed to suck it up and read about heterosexual hijinks, the same is not true in reverse. Congratulations!

But yeah, no kidding, The Internet loves drama and this is certainly dramatic for those of us who aren't convinced we're post-ism-of-your-choice.

KJ: Being not-queer myself, but (at least trying to be) relatively clued in to issues around marginalized groups and their representation in literature, I can't say that I was surprised, exactly. But I was, hmm, let's say taken aback by how blatant the agent's statements were. So maybe that's why I can play Good Feminist Cop and leave the rocket launcher at home. But I agree, some of the shock and dismay seems a little disingenuous, or at the very least naive. This should not have been a surprise to someone who is paying attention.

I want to pull something else out here, too; it was an aside in the article, but I think it's important, and symptomatic of larger problems in YA and in publishing in general.

"We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white."

That first sentence, especially, just blows my mind. So consensual non-monogamy is out of bounds, but cheating and lying are A-OK? What kind of messages are we sending and internalizing here? And this seems to go along with the sexuality issue, to me, and every other way in which mainstream publishing reinforces heteronormativity and traditional gender roles in relationships.

Renay: I believe that in large part the industry is reflecting what it assumes is going to sell. When I look at YA in bookstores now, I see rows and rows and rows of paranormal romance, largely with a love triangle or a pairing where the male partner is an asshole/bad boy. These relationships are all heterosexual in nature (meaning, if there is a love triangle, the boys or girls aren't going to run off together) and very, very focused on the realization of Perfect Heterosexual Monogamy.

The idea that the dude has to be an asshole is in the grip of this trend, too. I can't prove that's why adultery is cooler than polyamory in this scenario, but I am pretty suspicious that there's a game being played with stock characters and Asshole DudeBro is the new black. What's worse than a love triangle with no drama? (Besides queer people! Queer people are way uncool, no one wants to buy that, ew.) So of course the guy couldn't be openly with two girls and the girls not fighting over him. I imagine the same is true of a girl and two guys. That situation is so alien to most people that it's impossible to get it past the gate. It's not reinforcing the dominant cultural narrative about relationships and therefore it's not marketable. As we see with this whole thing, queer characters are still being erased, polyamorous young adults see no reflections of themselves in their media (some may not even understand because they don't have a clue it exists and they just feel broken), and some agents apparently think it's safer to flat out demand a sexuality makeover than to take a risk in a market that isn't primed for it.

KJ: Which is exactly what's going on with the request for erasing queer characters, as well. The agents and editors ask for what they think is going to sell, and so that's, in the main, what gets published. (For a really fun time, check out these discouraging numbers on how many YA titles have queer characters from Malinda Lo.) Which of course helps perpetuate the idea that heterosexuality, and monogamy, and asshole boyfriends who cheat on their women, are normal, the default, and anything else is bad and wrong and to be questioned, avoided. So it's good that people like Manija Brown and Smith call attention to the role publishers play in keeping queer narratives out of the bookstore, even if we shouldn't be shocked to hear it.

Renay: These imbroglios about queer representation continually flabbergast me. It's a firework into a crowd, sending that crowd swirling and with tons of opinions about who is right (writers/readers) and who is wrong (publishers/agents/editors), the solutions to the problem, claims of "hey, I would totally read that book!" But after the smoke has cleared and we're left with the mess from the fantastic, uplifting, supportive party of like-minded book lovers who just want to see some diversity, what happens?

Heteronormativity sets in.

I am guilty, too, although I have reached my limit on triangles full of love and jerks in hero clothing. I fall back on fandom and fanfiction for queer texts because searching for them in original work is difficult. Making a choice to go out and find a specific, niche topic in a larger genre flooded with material is so daunting and discouraging. When I was actively blogging about books, I struggled. Do I take the easy path and just take what's being spit out at me by personalized recommendation engines and book blogs which would result in great reading, but ensured my lists of authors would be full of white dudes writing about white people having extremely heterosexual, monogamous sexy times? Or did I buck the system and go dig deeper, with no certainty I'd even find what I'm looking for which was everything outside the above category? I'm an adult with the ability to really look and buy what I find. Other people aren't lucky like that. That's why we need mainstream publishers to embrace us.

I like that word you used: avoided. Because once the show is over it becomes really easy, if you're not one of the authors writing these works that can't find homes, or a reader who really wants to read them, to return to the status quo and avoid thinking about the issue and making choices that impact personal book buying. No buying queer books, no reading queer books, no reviewing queer books. It's all well and good to stand up and use a cute hashtag and tweet a link around on various social networks, but if that's not followed with tangible action, these gatekeepers will just keep hanging around, going "sorry, too queer!" or "yeah, we don't want any Nice Guys In Secure, Stable Relationships, thanks" with the undercurrent of "poly people are icky".

KJ: I suppose it's no surprise that creating lists of YA books with queer characters and characters of color was one of the first actions taken in this particular case. Everyone loves a good list! And in a way it's hard to argue with list making as a first step, because it's a lot easier to encourage people to read books about marginalized groups if we also help them learn what books are out there. But I seem to be incapable of looking at a list of books without wondering how many of them are written by women. ¹ So I did a quick count, and this is what I came up with:

Of the 37 books/book series listed on Science Fiction and Fantasy YA novels with Major LGBTQ characters, 28 are by women and 9 are by men. Of the 33 unique authors listed, 24 are women (no man is listed more than once.) That's 76% and 73%, respectively. I do get the impression that YA has a higher percentage of women authors overall, but surely the difference isn't this large, especially not in speculative fiction.

Running the same exercise on the books featuring characters of color (Science Fiction and Fantasy YA novels with Protagonists of Color, A - L, Science Fiction and Fantasy YA novels with Protagonists of Color, M - Z), I count 58 books/series by women out of 85 total (68%) and 46 out of 68 unique authors (also 68%). Which is closer in percentage to the LGBTQ list than I thought it was going to be from my quick scan of the list.

Better representation of women in genre fiction is a drum I like to bang on a lot, and this gets me thinking: is greater mainstream acceptance of queer narratives and characters of color a path toward that end, as well as something that would be good in and of itself?

Renay: If this is the group of writers willing to step up, write the stories they want to tell over and over even in the face of being rejected, or baldly asked to make a change that goes against the their vision for a character, I think they should be encouraged and supported. The fact that women are all over the lists goes back to Jodie's point about Girls as Omni-Readers. We're (as women) often equipped and in a position to write with diverse aims toward a literary world where there's more equality. We're not just interested in reflecting ourselves (although we can do that, and should) but we're interested in reflecting the entire world. That's not to say that other writers (men) don't want to, but it's that pesky Sexism again, hurting and limiting everyone, not just women. I find the parallels interesting. Why should men read or write about women? I like how easily it translates. Why should a straight person read or write about someone queer? Which only seeks to land us in literary theory waters of "what's the point of literature, anyway?"

KJ: I suppose there's some pleasure in reading a story that validates ourselves and our experiences — and I am as guilty as anyone of mostly buying and reading books featuring heteronormative relationships, because I am a lazy, whim-based reader who picks up books based on what looks good and what gets recommended to me, and so the cycle is perpetuated — but how boring would life be if that was all we ever read? One of the things I enjoy about losing myself in a book (or movie, or game, or television show...) is the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes, be someone different for awhile, spend some time immersed in an experience that is not my own.

Renay: Of course, when we take that view of the problem we run into the representation issue again. When I see people talk about YA and push for certain kinds of books it's about reflecting teen readers. X group doesn't read, we need more books aimed at X group. That's what went down with the argument (which I still think is ridiculous) for more "boy books" because it feels like the industry doesn't agree with you about experiencing different types of people.

KJ: Ugh, I hated that reaction to the debate: The automatic assumption that the way to get boys to read was to write more books about boys, rather than by encouraging boys to read more widely. It's emblematic of a thousand ways that our society caters to the privileged.

Renay: Don't these events, though, and others like it, do the opposite of catering? We're asking the privileged to reach out and step up. That's really hard. It's hard for me and I'm aware of it, so I know it's hard for other people. Listing every book you've read in a year and realizing that the main characters are all men or white or straight or that the authors themselves are all men or white or straight (sometimes all three) is pretty alarming and jarring for people who get legitimately angry when they read of authors being told to fold to industry standards of marketability just to get published. The anger is there but not the follow-through, because the industry may be right in thinking it has to be Reflection of Straight White People With Money to turn a profit.

Do the majority of young adult fiction readers want themselves reflected? Or do they want the chance to roleplay in different types of personality? The truth is probably something in the middle which makes it even more complicated. I disagree with Malinda Lo on whether on not it matters if this is "active homophobia", but I do agree with her other point: "Straight people, on the whole, are probably less likely to read books that are advertised as “gay books” because they might assume that the book is not for them."

This is true of any group that's marginalized and particularly in this case when it comes to queer or polyamorous people. This is a huge problem that lists and heartfelt requests to read and review more of X fiction won't ever address (and it makes it all the more clear to me why I couldn't find polyamorous YA when I looked for it). The majority has to embrace the minority. It's why we encourage men to be feminists, or heterosexual people to be queer allies, or white people to focus on their racism. We can't do it without the majority.The majority is who the industry is going to serve. They have more influence, it's not rocket science.

KJ: So maybe efforts like "YesGayYA" are looking at the problem from the wrong direction. Rather than pressuring publishers to be more open minded about what books they accept, maybe we need to pressure readers to be more open minded about which books they pick up. If (for example) more straight people bought queer-themed books, checked them out from the library, recommended them to their friends, blogged enthusiastically about them, and clamored for more, then we might not need to pressure publishers to do anything — the market would be there for them to embrace. And to give Manija Brown and Smith credit, they do call on readers to do this. But that's not the part of the message that came to the forefront — the signal boost seemed to focus on the sins of the agent. Probably because it's a lot easier to point at the big evil corporation that wants to sort us all into neat little marketing boxes than it is to look at our own behavior.

Renay: Oh, there's no doubt the effort is lost in the woods of its own self-congratulation. Reviewer Y telling themselves, "I tweeted a link by a gay author about this horrible thing, ugh, those mean publishers!" and feeling proud will be followed directly by them reviewing ten paranormal romances featuring a lady and a sexy vampire. There's nothing wrong with ladies and sexy vampires, but it feels so disingenuous to me to flail around about an issue, get up in arms, and then do exactly nothing to alter the landscape. It means doing more than contributing to a list, or paying lip service to a cause because it's the hip thing to get on the bandwagon of discontent and ire over Issue X. It's easy to make Mystery Agent a scapegoat than face the truth that some of us are culpable in the literary environment we now see spread before us. Don't get me wrong, I love a good list and love that people make them and introduce the world to titles that couldn't get lofted up enough to be seen, but I am past the point where I think list making is really doing us any good. If people are angry about this, I want all of them to look at how much YA they've read and see how much of it features straight white characters. Because they — and myself, too, I'm not immune just because I don't read original work that much, spend more time with fanfiction queering white dudes — are both part of the problem and the solution, as well.

KJ: Right. We can complain about the marketing boxes all we want, but really? Most of the time, we're perfectly happy to hop into those safe comfy boxes on our own and hang out. Because reading what we know is easy. Challenging the majority view? That's hard. But worth it, in the long run, I think. Changing our buying and reading habits wouldn't necessarily get us to representation utopia overnight — large corporations can be slow to respond to calls for change, and I don't doubt that there actually are agents, editors, and publishers using the economic argument as an excuse for their own personal biases. But creating a permanent market for books representing marginalized groups would make it a lot harder for those folks to hide behind the "not enough people will buy it" fig leaf. Our job is proving that claim wrong, and like you say, no marginalized group can do it on their own. It takes allies who are willing to make a sustained effort. I was really glad to see Rachel Manija Brown's call for follow through in her latest post on the subject; now let's just hope we can manage it.

Renay: See you in six months for a grueling review of our purchase history!

KJ: I can hardly wait.

¹ Because this blog focuses on gender issues, I only ran the counts for female versus male authors. I suspect that if we did similar analyses on the list in terms of the race/ethnicity and sexual orientation of the authors, we'd come up with higher percentages than average for YA authors overall there, too.

* Generous hat tip to Brent Hartinger.

Further Reading:

➝ Mirrors of the post that started it all, Authors Say Agents Try to "Straighten" Gay Characters in YA on Livejournal and Dreamwidth.

#YesGayYA on Twitter

YA authors asked to 'straighten' gay characters.

eta: It's a conspiracy!
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[personal profile] bookgazing
Having established that I have some strong things to say about the way people talk about boys and reading, let me turn to one suggestion that seems to be coming up more and more as people continue to talk about how to get boys interested in YA.

The solution that seems to be coming from many commentators is that publishers should get rid of gendered, girl-centric covers and replace them with ‘boy friendly’ graphics. Every time I see this solution appear I find myself so frustrated. I’m dying to see the back of gendered marketing and the idea that girls all respond positively to books with pink covers, but the campaign for ‘boy friendly' covers rubs me wrong.

Renay wrote a really great post about why calling for more male book representation isn’t a particularly helpful solution to the get boys to read more, if we consider the discussion of boys not reading in the context of a continual, world wide fight for gender equality. My ideas on the issue of creating have formed are absolutely indebted to that post and I don’t intend to restate Renay’s points because her writing can speak for itself, so I encourage you to bob over there now so that you’ll understand the rhetorical standpoint I’m using to deconstruct arguments about creating more covers that will appeal to boys.

The creation of more ‘boy friendly’ covers is a solution that several kick-ass feminist commentators have embraced, so it is in no way an easy, lazy piece of sexist skulduggery. While tweets like this one, which appeared during last week’s Twitter chat about ‘Why Men Write YA’ show a clearly sexist slant, creating ‘boy friendly’ or non-gendered covers appears to be an attractive, practical, non-problematic solution to the problem of boy’s lack of interest in young adult fiction. However, it is a solution that places boy’s practical needs above a fight for genuine, all encompassing equality.

Twitter quote reading: can hardly blame boys for taking one look at the jackets on the YA shelves & heading for the hills.
As Renay said when we discussed this tweet 'Of course they do, they're sexist and our culture is making them that way! The solution isn't to remove the feminine, that's just erasing girls.' No one is jabbing the pointy finger of blame at these boys, who are 'heading for the hills'. Feminist commentators are declaring their issues with a culture that tells boys they should be fleeing from these kind of jackets, that in fact it's ok to drop these books and leg it because normal boys should be against anything that looks vaguely traditionally girl-centric. When they march feminists carry signs declaring themselves against the social system of sexism, not against boys.

Let me suggest a comparison argument to illuminate why I think the dicussion about 'boy friendly' covers has strayed from the task of promoting genuine equality. Last year there was some talk over at Book Snob about the repercussions of allowing female soldiers to fight on the front line. One line of rhetoric that was discussed, suggested that male soldiers would be unable to perform their front line duties effectively if women were on the front line, because they would find it distressing to see their female colleagues injured. In this argument supposed male practical needs (to be protected from seeing something so distressing that their professional effectiveness would be compromised1) are placed ahead their female colleagues right to equality (to be given an equal chance to work in any kind of job a man works in)2.

The idea of putting ‘boy friendly’ covers on books is far removed from the subject of women on the front line and the scale of practical importance is hugely different, but the structure of the rhetorical arguments used about the importance of ‘boy friendly’ or ‘gender neutral’ covers is much the same. In the discussion about the army, some of the links cited are leery about using ‘natural arguments’, which rely on establishing a biological difference between men and women in order to show that women are unsuited for a task. These arguments seem less than reasonable to some involved in the discussion. I can remember seeing posts for ‘boy friendly’, or gender neutral book covers where the author makes it clear that boys don’t need these kind of covers because of a natural antipathy to pink, or a natural inclination for blue.

In the discussion at Book Snob, cultural arguments against women serving on the front line that are mentioned by commenter’s and in a linked article, are given much more credence. Men’s instinct to protect women is mentioned, and linked to the mental destruction of soldiers who see female colleagues injured. It appears that this may be used as a reason for keeping women from serving on the front line. Implicit in this line of thinking is the idea that culture has shaped men into protectors and Rachel explicitly mentions that men’s idea of themselves as protectors of women is a problematic internal image created by societal pressures. Cultural conditioning is a well established, respected idea among liberal commentators who reject biological determinism. The discussion at Book Snob includes people who recognise that culture shapes our perceptions of the opposite gender in problematic, undesirable ways which limit our society’s struggle for equality. Participants in discussions about putting ‘boy friendly’ or ‘gender neutral’ covers on books also frequently acknowledge that boys culturally created unwillingness/inability to read books with traditionally girly covers is created by societal sexism and is very much a problem.

Although the people involved in the Book Snob discussion and the people discussing boys reading recognise that cultural conditioning exists, after this realisation they focus on how near impossible it would be to change male attitudes. It seems that over at Book Snob everyone is just stymied by how huge a task this seems and I don't blame them. It is a huge, scary task. Some of the people involved in thinking up ways to get boys to read are very aware of the need for practical solutions right now, so that the boys that exist now don’t end up alienated from reading. Undoing centuries of gendered conditioning doesn’t look like the strategy to take when there appears to be a more practical solution, fast track that they can campaign for. People involved in these discussions believe cultural conditioning can be undone, even though it would be incredibly difficult (although I do think that the comments on Renay’s show there are plenty of other people who are hostile to the idea that working against gendered social conditioning is the way to get boys reading). People, at least in the discussions about book covers boys will like, are just focused on creating strategies that could immediately fix the highly visible problems affecting men and boys. And while they’re focusing on those strategies, the less visible problems of equality facing women and girls go into second position.

I get why, really I do. The idea that any boy might leave school illiterate scares the hell out of me. The idea that boys might not enjoy reading makes me a little sad for complicated reasons. And focusing on getting boys book covers that appeal to them doesn’t immediately seem to equate with keeping girls from achieving deserved equality. The problem is that if people keep telling boys that they don’t have to be interested in anything that looks traditionally female then it’s just another perpetuation of the idea that something which is linked (traditionally, or really) with the female can never be as good, or as interesting as something linked with the male. Pink can never be as good as blue, forever and ever and ever.

I know that might not seem important in the face of potentially illiterate boys. It sounds like the ramblings of a theorist with no eye for the practicalities of the world and I can imagine people saying that girls read a lot, women have a lot of literary representation, okay, the picture’s not perfect but women are at least in it. What does it matter if creating covers that are friendlier towards boys makes unfortunate suggestions? Let’s get those boys reading! I just have to maintain that idealistic theory is important, otherwise what are we aiming for? What’s the point if we don’t want to achieve everything? Ideas about intersectionality (specifically how not to hurt one group while empowering the other) need to be applied in these discussions on reading and boys, or we're all just going to end up with the same gendered mess we've always had.

1Personally I find the practical need I’ve identified at odds with the idea of what the army does. Everyone on the frontline sees a range of horrifying things that can affect their professional effectiveness and it seems that since the army is sometimes rather powerless to protect soldiers from these sights, they concentrate on ways to help them after the event.

2Disclaimer to say that I’m not accusing anyone who took part in that discussion of being deliberately anti-feminist and trying to keep the ladies down – sexist analysis can get in anyone’s brain, including mine and it is hard to combat. Nor am I saying you have to agree with my analysis of that exchange. I was very pleased to be able to have such a respectful conversation.
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[personal profile] renay
I fail at posting! \o/ And when I do post it's like Book Meta: 'Ware All Ye Who Expect Reviews For You Shall Be Disappointed and Let Down. I've become a ruiner, a ruiner of expectations, of hope, of interesting book commentary.

I have not been guilting myself about it; that's one of our Core Principles here at Lady Business, the No Stress principle. I am not sure we called them that officially, but I'm going with it. But still, I asked myself why I wanted to start this blog and the answer was both "I want to read and talk about books again" and also "I want Jodie and Ana to produce content that's smart and thoughtful FOR ME ALL FOR ME GIMME RIGHT NOW".

That was not a selling point when I approached them...or at least I phrased it differently. There was less overarching greed. Now I'm just owning it. NOW YOU KNOW THE TRUTH, ALL. Judge as you see fit as you get together at your awesome Shakespeare performance WITHOUT ME and also feel free to scroll past this entry of personal bookish meta and literary navel gazing about the future of books (but only in my house).

This is how many books I've been able to read since starting this blog: one (ugh, Kelly hates me).
This is how many books I've started and given up on since starting: nine.

I've been reading, though. I've been reading Shaped Like a Question Mark and Crime and Medicine and The Waking Years and These Unending Alchemies of Honour and Kiss Trick and Call and Answer and The Holly Golightly Club and Go Not Gently. There's more than this; this is just what I have on my iPhone currently. More and more I will default to long fanfiction that's available online in digital formats and I am starting to think it's not just because it's fanfiction. It's also because it's really convenient for my lifestyle, which is well, mostly online (I thrive best hermit-style). It's probably weird to start my Thoughts on Yaoi E-Books using fanfiction, but as I have matured as a reader and become more aware of what I like to read (girls being awesome with no romance, dudes being awesome and romancing each other in front of explosions, explosions in general, pirates, Anything Written By Certain YA Authors of Note and Several Fannish Personalities That Like Pretentious Writing) I realize I have stopped reading as much and trend has been downward since the year I discovered the internet. What's the hold up? I know there are books out there like this now, and they're not hard to find. Renay, what the hell are you doing? Do you hate books?

When e-books first came around and e-readers became a thing (the earliest I remember is 2005, and the Kindle dropped in 2007) I remember being uninterested. I didn't really think they would catch on, and I am so picky about my technology as it is. Even years I wasn't reading, this was back when I couldn't imagine giving up the physical object, the pages and the covers and the smell and the cute bookmarks, the piles of books everywhere just waiting to be read, the enjoyment of curling up with a book and a cup of tea and a blanket. This was back when reading books didn't hurt my eyes or give me headaches because I can't seem to get the lighting anywhere in my apartment appropriate for reading anymore.

There's also the fact that I read faster on a screen. This blows my mind, as it used to be the complete opposite. But now hand me a hard copy of a book that's 270 pages and it will take me six hours to read it, whereas if it was digital I could knock it out in three or four. This is why so much of my reading during the semester took me forever; it was all hard copy.

So now I am faced with the fact that I love stories, but I am really not attached to books anymore. I have always been the type to take to new technology easily. I pick up new UI's with no real problem. But it's so weird to go into a bookstore now and stare at books I want to read but know I won't buy because I never will read them. The method of delivery has lost its shine when it comes to text (I have not yet faced this with sequential art, I already foresee a horrible, painful breakup). It's both intriguing (new tech! shiny! 1,000 of stories at my fingertips on a memory card! searching a document with Find!) and depressing (dog eared pages, handmade bookmarks from friends, that new book smell, opening a hardcover for the first time, cracking jokes about door-stopper novels, midnight releases, signed copies of books from authors). Even with all the items in the second parenthetical, it doesn't help: I don't care and can't make myself care unless the story is on a screen, because hilariously, it's not worth the headache. I don't even have any good answers for myself. I am saving for a Nook Color, but I still have books and am hoping that if I just admit I am moving on from these objects I will feel less guilty picking them up.

Oh, 21st century. I would say never change, but that's all you are, for books and reading and everything else.
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[personal profile] bookgazing

So have you heard? There’s a crisis happening. Boys aren’t reading young adult fiction (a genuine concern), but the real centre of the crisis is that it’s women who are keeping them from finding novels that interest them. According to some people, the fact (does anyone have supporting data I can see) that women occupy many positions of power in the young adult book industry means that their unconscious biases are prejudicing them to produce a disproportionate amount of books that serve the needs of young women, rather than young men. Women are creating this reading crisis.

Uhuh. Full disclosure: I’d be more inclined to be patient with this argument if I hadn’t heard quite so many discussions about how women are bringing literature to its knees. It seems there are a lot of things that women do, from reading romance to writing in such a domestic way which lead to an impoverished literary market. Now that women have taken powerful positions in the young adult book industry they’re being accused of destroying boys reading enjoyment by privileging girls reading enjoyment. It’s hard to listen to such an argument with an open heart when you’ve seen men stand against women in so many other areas of literature.

Let me be clear, I do wish that boys were reading more fiction, because I’m a reader and in my ideal world everyone would enjoy novels. Of course I think boys being able to read is so important. I’m also not denying that boys need to see themselves represented in current fiction, just like any other cultural group. What I’m objecting to is the way in which arguments about boys not reading and about the way girls read, in contrast to the way boys read, are framed in sexist ways that often make use of double standards, or seek to draw a direct comparison between how women in power might be prejudiced and why men in power are often biased.

Today I begin a series of connected posts that should help us dig into the logic arguments used to describe the fact that boys are not reading young adult fiction. I'll be looking at:

1.) How women gaining positions of power within the YA industry is being interrogated by commentators
2.) Girls as omni-readers
3.) How we would react to the way we describe boys reading if we were talking about girls reading
4.) What kind of book suits a girls needs
5.) Why many women do not feel receptive to arguments about the problem of boys reading 

Juicy ideas begin below: 

Describing women in positions of power within the YA industry

This first post is in direct response to a post from YA author Brendan Halpin over at 'Girl in a Cage'. One of the big arguments I’m seeing around the discussion of boys not reading, an argument that Halpin agrees with, is that because women are in positions of power in the YA publishing industry they are now producing many more books that suit girl’s needs# than books that suit boys needs (Halpin describes the books being produced as 'friendlier towards that group than to other groups').

When Halpin talks about women in positions of power in YA publishing producing more books that are ‘friendly’ to female culture he makes the assumption that these women’s gender groups them in a very particular way. It is implicit in his argument that women in positions of power in YA publishing all operate as a monolithic cultural group * and that everyone in that group is either feminist, or pro-girl by virtue of being a woman.

Let’s get this out of the way, not all women are feminist and (as I recognise that just because you don’t identify as a feminist, that doesn’t mean that you’re not pro-women) not all women are pro-female. There are women who aren’t pro-women, they exist. Being a feminist, or pro-women does not guarantee you a top job in young adult publishing, it is not a question they put on the application form. There is always the possibility that women in the top jobs in young adult publishing are not feminist women, or even women who like other women very much.

Halpin also tosses out the idea that women, by virtue of being women, see the world through their female lens, which leads them to be unconsciously biased towards producing books that suit girl’s needs. Here he uses arguments about the way privileged majority groups' unconscious prejudices affect what they think the whole world is, or should be interested in. The problem is he is using these arguments to describe a less privileged group who have recently gained power in one small section of culture, not a group that has always held/holds power and privilege in the majority of culture. The argument that majority power leads to inherent bias does not necessarily work in the same way for women working YA as it does for men working in other areas because

a.) women gaining power in YA are coming from within a male dominated culture which constantly reinforces its view of what should be privileged (the male) and women have absorbed these feelings

b.) these women continue to exist in this culture that reinforces how superior male dominated culture is, even as they work in powerful positions in YA publishing

c.) as a result of this many women’s unconscious biases tend to be towards male culture and conscious efforts have to be made by many women to combat these biases and embrace female literary culture(I base this statement on my own lived experience and on anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from other female readers)

Imagine for a minute that Halpin were using the argument of privilege, against any other typically under represented group whose members had recently gained majority power in one area. Would there be a great deal of support for this position then?

Please note, I am not saying that specific women in young adult publishing are anti-women. I’m also not saying that all women in publishing are unconsciously privileging male culture either in their working life, or in their personal life. I am not proposing a reality where anti-women female publishers sit down with their coffee and think about how great men’s things are. And I’m more than happy to say that there could in the realms of possibility be a coalition of all feminist female publishers who have developed conscious biases (not unconscious biases) towards young adult fiction that will be 'friendlier' to girls needs as a reaction to their previous unconscious biases towards such an overwhelmingly male centred cultural society. I find this rather unlikely, but it is a possible permutation.

What I am pointing out about arguments, like 'because there are women in power in young adult publishing, girls are more likely to get books that are friendly towards girls' or 'women are unconsciously biased towards female culture' is that these rhetorical arguments are sloppy and for convenience sake, ignore the reality of the culture that women exist within. Halpin is taking the framework of an argument from a group that is generally less privileged (women), removing that framework from the context in which it operates (a very deep knowledge and much proof throughout the ages that the majority of men will unconsciously or consciously privilege traditional masculine culture over traditional female culture). He then uses this hollow framework to create an alarmist link between women in power and boys who don’t read young adult fiction.

What especially bothers me about this argument is the immediate bad faith it demonstrates towards women in YA publishing. Women, being a group who have only been able to gain positions of power in the workplace relatively recently, do not have a vast cultural history of discriminating against men when they gain a majority share of power. In contrast to this there are vast amounts of historical proof that having taken positions so that they control the majority of power in one area men will unconsciously and consciously discriminate against women. What does Halpin decide seeing both women in power in YA and boys who don’t enjoy reading YA fiction? He goes straight to the idea that women must be (unconsciously) biased towards girls and are creating a culture that devalues boys reading experience, without exploring other options. Women and other groups that have historically been oppressed have these huge amounts of data that suggest links between dominant cultural groups (white, straight, male, cisgendered) taking power and their groups culture not being catered for. That’s part of what makes the arguments of privilege work, the fact that these groups can look back and note a sustained correlation. Just because two things appear in the one, small, same environment, doesn't necessarily mean there’s a correlation – you need more data and context to determine the link.

I'm aware that Halpin has posted apologising for making his post, saying that the way he put his point across was 'dickish'. To be honest, while I find that post moving it doesn't specifically address any of the sex, or gender issues that his first post set banging around in my head, issues that seem to come up over and over on the internet and in offline media sources. Ladybusiness was created so that we could all mouth off about culture together so on I go.

# Let me set aside the examination of what this statement means until later, but right now I’ll tell you I think it’s pretty empty.

* And I’d just like to acknowledge that although a lot of these posts will focus on traditional femininity in opposition to traditional masculinity that within the gender group of women there are many other groups with totally different experiences from the white, straight, cisgendered one – I am making plans for posts that involve these cultures later

Next Wednesday: Girls as omni-readers


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