Tag Archives: writing

Girly geeky lit

Here’s a bit of a 101 thread with a difference, it’s 101 for women writers, not 101 for feminism.

Over at Tiger Beatdown C.L. Minou talks about her transition in reading (which coincided with her transition in gender presentation), from reading books by and about men to reading books by and about women. Here’s an excerpt, although you should definitely read the whole thing:

Back in my youth I indulged in the most stereotypical of male literature, science fiction, reading it pretty much exclusively for about a decade. It wasn’t all wasted—I got my first bits of sex ed reading New Wave sci-fi—but I don’t need to tell anyone that a lot of what I was reading was so backwards on the matter of gender as to be fucking retrograde. I liked the Big Three a lot: Asimov, Clarke, and god help me, Heinlein—a man who not only thought “all women are the same height—lying down” was a good pickup line, he actually wrote a story where it worked as a pickup line… And women authors? Hah. Even when I was reading science fiction exclusively, I didn’t like LeGuin, the most openly feminist sci-fi author. I think I read one book by Cherryh. Octavia Butler? Never heard of her. Seriously. I’d never heard of Octavia Butler until she DIED. And the authors of my Great Books tour could pretty much all use the same restroom…

Now for our 101. A lot of the fannish geeks here are all over great stuff by women, I imagine, but some (ahem, me) aren’t so much. So here’s a thread for those of you who are on top of your recommendations: women fiction authors, especially ones that you think of as somehow geeky (by genre, or style, or… geek vibe). Some things to start with:

  • General description of fiction that this woman writes (genre, style, language if not English)
  • Recommended starting point for her work.

What you recommend doesn’t have to be professionally published original fiction. Just stuff you love and want to share.

How John Scalzi invented fanfic

So the other day John Scalzi posted on his blog that he is writing a “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s science fiction novel “Little Fuzzy”. He says:

Why did you do this?

Because as far as I know it’s never been done before. Science fiction TV and movie series are rebooted all the time — see Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek for recent examples of this — but I can’t think of a significant, original universe in science fiction literature in which this has been done, at least, not by someone who is not the original author. So I thought, hey, this seems like it could be a fun thing to do. So I did it.

If your eyes aren’t rolling enough already (because, hello, fan fiction?), melannen pointed out to me that Ardath Mayhar, a female author, had even written a professionally published retelling of the Little Fuzzy story (a fact that’s mentioned on the Wikipedia page for Little Fuzzy, so it’s hardly obscure.)

Is it time for another round of How To Suppress Women’s Writing?

  • She didn’t write it.

(But if it’s clear she did the deed. . .)

  • She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)
  • She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!)
  • She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (“Jane Eyre. Poor dear, that’s all she ever. . .”)
  • She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s sci fi!)
  • She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte. Her own “masculine side.”)
  • She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help….)
  • She wrote it BUT. . .

When women do it, it’s just fan fiction. When men do it, it’s a reboot. Right.

ETA: I’ve been pointed at a subsequent post in which Scalzi admits he’s writing fanfic.

For those who are new here, I’d like to point out that we have a comment policy which asks you to “Be at least one of: feminist, friendly, amusing, or perspicacious. Two is even better.” Comments along the lines of “She wrote it, BUT…” (it wasn’t commercially published, it wasn’t called a reboot because we hadn’t invented that word yet, she didn’t have permission from TPTB…) will be bitbucketed.

Linkspam, the country where I quite want to be (8th December, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

And she’s cute, too!

Today’s guest blogger, Juliet Kemp, is a sysadmin, technical writer, and environmentalist.

The other week, I got an email from someone who had read one of my articles. This is something that happens from time to time, and normally it makes me happy. It's good to hear that people appreciate what you write.

So I opened up the email, and sure enough, it started off with a compliment about the usefulness of a particular article that I'd written. Great. Warm fuzzies abound. Unfortunately, the warm fuzzies vacated the premises in the next paragraph, in which the (male) writer concluded with the sentiment that it was nice to read such good articles written by "a cutie".

I think I may have said something very rude at that point. It certainly left me feeling uncomfortable and a little creeped-out.

The problem I have with this isn't just in the assumption that it's OK for a total stranger (who I've never even seen in person) to comment on my appearance. It's in the implication that the technical merit of my writing isn't the important part here — that what's important is how physically attractive I am. (And in particular with the form of words used, not just "cute", but "a cutie", which is a very neat way to suggest that everything important about a person can be encapsulated in their appearance.)

But hey. Maybe this guy was just ill-informed, right? Maybe he really did just mean to be complimentary, and didn't know that what he was saying might well cause discomfort or give offence.

So I took some nice calming breaths, and I emailed him back, saying: "Hey, thanks for letting me know that you like my writing, but the rest of your comment made me uncomfortable. And I'm sure you don't mean to do that, or to come across as creepy, so I'm letting you know that it was inappropriate."

Next day, I got a reply. He started off by saying that my response (finding his comment inappropriate) was as expected; then that he wouldn't mind someone calling him cute; and then went on to elaborate on his opinion of the attractiveness of "most" women in tech (low), and of the competence of those women who were attractive (also low).

Without even getting into the broader points (I'll do that in a moment), this man is saying "I expected this to make you uncomfortable, but I said it anyway, because I think it should be OK". This isn't even just cluelessness: it's deliberately causing distress. It's on the same continuum as the guy who gropes women on public transport, because he wants to and he doesn't care what they want.

I gave up at that point, but for the benefit of those playing along at home, here are the issues in play:

  • Issues of privilege and systemic gender inequality mean that it just is not the case that you can swap genders over and say "it would be fine this way around, so it's fine the other way around". These things have different meaning depending on your position, and men and women are starting from different positions (with different social expectations of their behaviour, and different access to power).
  • Not to mention the all-too-familiar "I think this, which differs from what you think, thus your response is invalid".
  • Techie women aren't cute? Cute women aren't techie? Those who claim to be both are mostly lying? We're back to a set of assumptions about what makes women worthwhile: appearance. And a projected opposition: you can be either attractive or intelligent, but not both. Women are only allowed to fit into one of two pre-defined categories, rather than existing as the 3 billion or so complex individuals that they are.
  • It is simply not relevant what someone looks like in this context. By drawing attention to appearance in this way, what's coming through is that what matters here isn't my (or any other woman's) technical ability, it's our physical appearance. This is not a standard which is applied to male geeks (and hey, it wouldn't be acceptable if it was).

(This link about exceptionalism also contains some useful thoughts about these issues.)

The thing is: this isn't an isolated incident. It would still be shitty even if it was; but it isn't. Other geek women I spoke to had similar experiences, and in a couple of cases deliberately kept photos of themselves offline in order to avoid such problems; there's plenty of evidence that people who openly operate online as "female" get significantly more harassment than those who operate as "male". And often far worse or blunter than this particular incident, which made me uncomfortable and angry, but at least wasn't threatening. That's a typical female experience in itself: to tell yourself, well, this was unpleasant, but it wasn't, y'know, dangerous. Frankly, fuck that shit.

It's all part of a continuum. Think of women as primarily important for their appearance, and that informs your interactions with them. It's patronising, degrading, and it's fundamentally not acceptable behaviour. Compliment me on my technical skills, by all means, but don't suggest that that's just an adjunct to what really matters: that you think I'm cute.

And, of course, this puts women off engaging in what is already (as has been extensively discussed, here and elsewhere) a very male space. This, exactly this, kind of behaviour, is what creates a space where women are not comfortable to contribute. And that sucks even more than the ignorant behaviour itself.