manifesta: (Marauders)
So I realized today that for my presentation for SirensCon, I have to effectively create two different write-ups: an academically pristine version for the paper, and still very shiny but imperfect version for the actual presentation. This means swapping between my academic voice and my natural voice, which is full of "y'all"s that make my friends look at me askance because a) I don't have an accent and b) I'm not from the south but in fact both coasts (but half of my family is deeply southern, okay?) and plenty of sinful contractions. I'm also wrestling with the fact that I won't have any props--no poster, no PowerPoint, nada. Just me. Talking. With nothing to gesture frantically at.

The paper/presentation is currently just bits and bats, but I wanted to share a quote I read today and will be including. It's from Ellen Neuborn's essay “Imagine My Surprise” in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Generation.
“I don’t understand where the programming began. I had been taught that girls do could anything boys could do. Equality of the sexes was a unimpeachable truth. […] I’m a good feminist. I would never apologize for having a different opinion.
“But I did.
“Programming. It is the subtle work of an unequal world that even the best of feminist parenting couldn’t overcome. It is the force that sneaks up on us even as we think that we are getting ahead with the best of the guys. I would never have believed in its existence. But having heard it, amazingly, escape from my own mouth, I am starting to recognize its pattern.” (pg. 183)
Later, she asks:
"Do you think you would do better? Do you think you would recognize sexism at work immediately?
“Are you sure?” (pg. 184)
Sometimes it can be excruciating, trying to find the language to explain how something we see, do, or hear reflects societal norms and thus can be potentially very damaging. It becomes even harder when there's a chorus of voices shouting that you're wrong, you're imagining things, it's not as bad as it seems, you're just looking for a fight.

I feel like this quote eloquently describes just how difficult it can be to recognize, and put into words, not just the systemic, implicit norms that perpetuate inequality but how those same systemic, implicit norms can silence any discussion about inequality--thus perpetuating it even more so. The system is self-serving in its design to preserve the status quo. This quote also demonstrates that picking up on sexism, or even (especially?) internalized sexism, can be incredibly difficult, even for people who are educated or aware of the issues.

To echo Neuborn, do you think could recognize rape culture automatically? Do you think you could always identify victim-blaming, or make the distinction between a forced seduction and a rape? 

Are you sure?
manifesta: (Mischief Managed)
A huge thank you to everyone for your thoughts on my last two posts. It was certainly an interesting weekend.

The idea of even having to compile this list makes my stomach turn, but I figure it will be useful in future conversations. These are variations of statements I've seen made in recent discussions that were used to dismiss someone's concerns or objections about the potential negative implications of a book's content and minimize their argument. In my response to each I've included reasons why I believe these statements were made and why they are not the best choices for a conversation, particularly one that involves discussion regarding inequality. I write this because all too often it's the people who bring up issues about power and privilege that are not given the benefit of the doubt in a discussion and are forced into defending their position instead of hosting a conversation about it.

(1) Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. AKA, you're reading too much into it. I think this one crops up so frequently because high school English classes in the States try very hard to emphasize the apparent symbolism in every single book they can get their hands on (truly, I love Elie Wiesel's Night, but I'm not convinced there's symbolism in the snow) and after being told over and over again to look for the deeper meanings that seem to exist solely because you wanted to find them, the whole concept becomes silly. Combine this with (a) the internalization or lack of awareness of systemic inequality and (b) the societal norms that perpetuate and disguise systemic inequality, and the idea that the text is more than just the text is rendered unfathomable.

This cut was brought to you by the Society for Shorter Reading Pages (SSRP). )
manifesta: (Marauders)
Just registered for SirensCon. Too excited for words.

re: The lack of updates. No spoons and a lot of family issues. Obviously I've neglected to mention the yet another coverfail debacle (and unlike [personal profile] bookshop , I'm content with being that person who rants about publishing--though I like to think I do more than rant). As such, publishing- and book-related posts may slow for an untold amount of time, but they'll continue to trickle in here and there.

I may also start to make access-locked posts full of Harry Potter fangirling (seriously, have you seen that trailer? Or the poster?) and personal minutiae. I'll start granting access soonish (I've never used it overmuch before now). I'll try to only grant access to people who I think might be interested, but if you're not, please don't hesitate to tell me so-- I won't be offended.

In the mean time, have a bunny with a pancake on its head.

manifesta: (Rory/Logan Snuggle)
Working steadily on part 2 of the romance series, but it's slow-going. There are a lot of empowering and disempowering characteristics in romance, and for every topic I elaborate on, there are even more details within that topic that I feel like I need to talk about, and on it goes. I might have a beta reader look over it; if anyone's interested, especially if you have some familiarity with LGBTQ characters and/or kink/BDSM in fiction, do let me know! (Short summary: there seems to be more LGBTQ characters and kink in erotica than there is in romance, and I think that says alotalotalot about how we perceive non-hetero/vanilla/etc. sexualities, as well as the current state of the industry, but I'm not as familiar with erotica and I'm trying to avoid making assumptions. Any thoughts would be appreciated.)


Malinda Lo (author of Ash) wrote a 5-part series of blog posts on avoiding LGBTQ stereotypes when writing YA fiction.
"In YA fiction today I often encounter secondary characters who are LGBTQ. This is a great development; it means that LGBTQ people are increasingly part of the story. Nina LaCour’s hold still has a particularly awesome secondary queer character in it.

"However, I also find the most stereotyping in secondary characters. I think this is because a secondary character, whether he’s a supporting character or simply a walk-on one, has less space on the page than a main character." #

From the comments:
"Too often we still see the coming out story ignore that most teens today not only have greater familiarity with queer people and issues, and have seen those issues debated in real life and on TV, in the news, etc., but many have already met someone they at least perceive to be queer and have greater access to support and queer culture. And so when someone comes out in their world, or they themselves acknowledge they might be/are queer, it is from a different place and context then it was even ten years ago, and certainly than it was fifteen or more years ago. And the coming out stories written about them need to take these changed realities into account." #

 

brb, finals

Jun. 7th, 2010 02:06 pm
manifesta: (Default)

 
Not dead, just slogging through finals week and trying to nail down funding for Sirens Con. The downside of running a journal that's all about the meta is that when I don't have the mental energy to think, content tends to slow down. Parts 2 and 3 of the romance series are still forthcoming, and possibly some thoughts on books I've read recently. For now, links!

[personal profile] holyschist on Moonshine by Alaya Johnson, an intriguing 1920s urban fantasy with a feminist female protag.
[livejournal.com profile] melissa_writing (Melissa Marr) on sex in YA books.
[personal profile] kaigou on the dynamics of fandom part 1. With colorful diagrams!
[livejournal.com profile] kaz_mahoney  is hosting a summer writing camp. Sign-ups end tonight, so hurry!
[personal profile] wild_irises posting in [community profile] wiscon:  An Open Letter to People Who Didn't Feel Safe at WisCon 34.
[personal profile] megwrites on science fiction and ablism.

On the bright side, my experiment is DONE DONE DONE and I has coffee.
 
manifesta: (3 Weeks for Dreamwidth)

Congratulations to [personal profile] ar and [personal profile] gloss for winning the book giveaway! Please PM me or email me at manifesta at dreamwidth dot org with your:

1. mailing address
2. which book you would like
3. if you want it as an ebook
4. your preferred online book distributor, if you have one

I include the last just in case someone really wants to support an indie bookstore, etc. but otherwise I'll order through anything that can ship to you.


Thank you everyone for participating in 3W4D and the giveaway! I may not have been able to reply to everyone, but I've truly appreciated your thoughts, comments, and support.

A few of my own thoughts on the giveaway process:

1. There were three other potential books that I at one point had wanted to analyze but didn't: Elantris by Branden Sanderson (political fantasy), The Last Mortal Man by Syne Mitchell (science fiction of some flavor or another), and Vision in White by Nora Roberts (contemporary romance). The last was originally among my top five but I realized last minute that it's a trade paperback, not mass market. The first two were quite good, but only featured one woman as a protagonist, and while they would have been fun to dissect, I was torn over whether or not they served the purpose of the giveaway as I saw it (which was, at its core, to be empowering for women).

2. On that note, common characteristics of the books I analyzed include: female authors with strong female protagonists; added to or subverted the traditional norms of the genre in some way; an element of fantasy; and thorough worldbuilding and/or characterization. I mostly went with instinct when picking my list, and I think it turned out well.

I'd also like to note that these aren't necessarily my favorite books, but rather good books I've read in the last 8 months or so.

3. Everyone's posts they linked to on the giveaway entry page are so interesting! I've been trolling the latest things/3W4D pages but it seems that there was still content out there that eluded me. Thank you for sharing your meta, comment fests, and recipes with me!


For some reason, the poll creator isn't working for me, so if you'd like to answer in the comments: Which of the four books were your favorite?

I'll be returning to my weekly meta and industry commentary now, so stay tuned.
manifesta: (An's Fury)
I apologize if this has already made its rounds through my Dwircle, but in case anyone's missed it, the wonderful [personal profile] ephemere wrote a beautiful, heart-wrenching response to Charles Tan's recent essay. There's so much of it that I want to quote, but as a white, privileged individual, I particularly appreciated this part:
"So (and I address this now to the theoretical audience of those on the other, privileged end of the inequality) if you, as a white person, are afraid of writing about us: then be afraid. Carry in your heart the fear of doing further injustice to a people into whose blood oppression has become so incorporated that our institutions and our media echo with the dual strains of self-loathing and adulation for those who are not us. Live with the anxiety of questioning your assumptions about a people that is not more American than America, not a race composed only of tourist guides and call-center agents and overseas foreign workers and shoe-crazy society matrons and celebrity politicians, not your "little brown brothers and sisters"; whose richness and diversity and pursuit of individual identity all too often escape the surface view to which most observers are confined. Confront your blind spots and your privilege in having the luxury of overlooking this inequality because you aren't disenfranchised by it. Cast away the viewpoints that tag our similarities as proof of the good points of the Philippines and relegate our differences to the status of "disadvantage" or "compensation for..." in those instances when you do choose to acknowledge that we aren't "just like you". Grasp the difficulty that comes with having to ask yourself whether you are condescending, whether you are offending beliefs that are not held without reason, whether you are perpetuating a mindset that plays at well-intentioned assistance while diminishing fundamental freedoms to choose our own goods. We've had 'well-intentioned assistance'; the Americans called it benevolent rule. Delve into our history, the blood of our politics and our wars; soak yourself in it, in the grit and the grime of our daily living, until you understand why we rage and why we have cut out our tongues."
I've written and re-written what I want to say here about a dozen times. As a white writer, I feel like [personal profile] ephemere has given an answer to an old question: whether white writers should write characters of color. A simple "yes" or "no" isn't good enough. Sitting with the fear, constantly challenging one's own privilege, acknowledge of one's inexpertise... self-awareness and respect... those aren't the this-or-that answers we often look for. The question is complicated, and so is the answer. Avoiding writing characters of color out of fear boils down to avoiding the fear, and is a privilege. As is writing characters of color without keeping that fear in the forefront, because I think that fear, that awareness mingled with accountability, is what is required to deconstruct privilege, and sweeping it under the bed does nothing toward that.
manifesta: (Default)
It's [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw!

I mentioned briefly, back in the dark ages prior to [personal profile] manifesta's renovation, that I wanted to do a giveaway of books that I thought were awesome. More recently I brought up the idea of analyzing some of these books, focusing what I thought was done poorly or done well, and there seemed to be some support for this idea.

So, here's the deal:

1. Over the course of the next Three Weeks I'll be posting about different books that I've read in the last 8 months. The facets I will focus on in my analysis will vary from book to book but ultimately stem from a feminist perspective, and I'd highlight whatever I thought relevant or simply struck my fancy.

2. I will try very, very hard not to post spoilers. If I do think something is spoilery but essential, I'll hide it under a cut.

3. My discussion of each book will not be comprehensive; i.e. if one of the female characters is stuffed in a refrigerator, I'll mention that, but if there are tragic plot holes, I might not mention that (though really, if there are tragic plot holes I think I'd be less inclined to consider the book "awesome"). Thus I wouldn't by any means consider my posts to be reviews, but because this is a giveaway, I suppose you could say that I'm endorsing them.

4. There will be two (2) winning participants, which means I will be giving away two (2) books,* though I will be posting about more books than that. Winners can choose which book from the ones that I've posted about as their prize. I don't have a finalized list of books that I intend to include, but they'll range from fantasy to romance to paranormal romance and include at least one YA. I realize this isn't a very broad spectrum and won't suit everybody, but it's what I like to read.

Because Three Weeks is a celebration of Dreamwidth and a way to foster content and community, there are a few rules. You must do one of the following to enter the giveaway:

a. post at least one (1) entry of 250 words or more exclusively to Dreamwidth (personal journals, comms, etc.) for the festival, content choice up to you; if you want to do photos, vids, poetry, icon spams, etc. that's fine, too
OR
b. post at least five (5) comments of 50 words or more (each) to Three Weeks-related content** during the festival

Don't know where to start? All posts tagged with three weeks for dreamwidth or threeweeks will show up on this feed: http://www.dreamwidth.org/latest?feed=threeweeks

The word minimum is more of a recommendation than a strict guideline. Quality over quantity.

I reserve the right to disqualify any entries or comments that I consider to include hatespeech of any kind.

5. At the end of the Three Weeks festival, the week of May 10th, I will make a post that people can comment on to enter the giveaway. Your comment, in order to be considered eligible, MUST INCLUDE a link to your entry or five separate links to your comments. (If you're not sure how to link to comments, look for a 'LINK' button around or below each individual comment.)

You do not have to be subscribed to me to enter. You also do not have to link to or comment on my journal or entries, but if you'd like to signal-boost the giveaway, I'd appreciate that.

I recognize that not everyone who reads DW content has a DW journal. I could require that people sign up with the site in order to participate, but I don't want a flood of otherwise unused accounts sitting around after the festival's done. I will accept open-ID*** participants that post comments on Three Weeks-related content but ask that you consider trying out DW. We're pretty cool. Really.



Questions? Thoughts? Feel free to comment, message me, or email me at manifesta at dreamwidth dot org.

Ironically, this week is my busiest of the quarter, so I may not be as active around the community as I would like. I will try to read and comment as much as possible, but my response time to any queries may be slow. Please have patience with me.

And on another vein, I truly wish I could give away more than two books, but it isn't plausible at this time. Perhaps in the future I'll do a used-book giveaway, which may cut down on costs.

*Giveaway open to everyone on the planet as long as I can ship to you through B&N, Amazon, or some other book distributor. If you would prefer an ebook version, then assuming there is one, I can do that, too.
**I chose to restrict comments to Three Weeks content in order to promote feedback within the festival itself. If anyone has serious issues with this, I will consider changing it to include comments on entries outside the festival.
***I will not accept anonymous entries because I won't be able to figure out if you were the one who actually posted the linked comments.
manifesta: (Never Turn Down Tea)
I've been reading lots of books that make me happy lately, and I'm torn between muttering about each them in a single post or critically analyzing each of them in separate posts or sitting on them like a dragon. What the posts would not be are reviews. I would most likely be picking apart certain aspects of the book, aspects that relate to social justice issues in some fashion or another. I wouldn't discuss the writing, plot, characters, etc. unless it was relevant in some way. If asked, I could certainly say if I recommended it, but the analysis itself wouldn't paint a complete picture of the book, and I'd acknowledge that.

It's [community profile] followfriday!

[personal profile] madame_parker is new-ish to DW and is a bookworm with fannish interests. Go say hi!
[personal profile] ephemere talks about gaming, culture, history, and economics.
[personal profile] lea_hazel comments on books and general general geekery, and makes the occasional but highly amusing psychological observation.

[community profile] three_weeks_for_dw starts on Monday the 26th! To echo [personal profile] erda the easiest way to contribute, if you don't have the time/don't want to write up anything in a post, is to comment! I'll be posting... something. It's a surprise (even for me!).
manifesta: (Psych Major)

[trigger warning for discussions of rape culture]

I've had a week to think about it, and the fallacy I keep coming across whenever there's a discussion regarding rape culture in books is the notion that if the reader is educated, then they are exempt from being influenced. This notion focuses on a small portion of readers that have been educated about what rape culture is and what it looks like, can recognize rape culture when they read or see it (and let me be the first to say that there are times when I, as a violence prevention and survivor advocate, and as someone who analyzes everything, cannot recognize it), and ignores the social norms that are inherent to and disguise, to the point of acceptance, rape in our society. It also shifts the burden of responsibility to the individual to educate themselves about what rape--and what the social norms that perpetuate rape--looks like.

Forced seduction scenarios contain an inherent element of confusion. They blur the line between rape and not-rape, perpetuating the society-accepted notion that "no" really means "yes." They are different from rape fantasies because a properly constructed rape fantasy not only defines itself as a rape fantasy but also creates a context that validates what consent is and isn't. While rape fantasies may still have a psychological impact on the reader, forced seduction fantasies are far more dangerous, because in a rape fantasy the reader is made aware that it is rape that is occurring, whereas in a forced seduction fantasy, there's no such tell.

I am a proponent of education that paints a clear picture of what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. However, no education in the world can stand in the face of the repetitive and mixed messages American* culture is currently sending through every possible venue. Popular culture can be a magnificent, terrifying force. I'm sure there are people out there who can say, with utmost certainty, that they know exactly what rape and rape culture looks like and that they would be able to identify every facet of it every time. And I have no doubt that they can. But this isn't about the individual.

When books, movies, songs, advertisements, and tv shows, the things we buy and the things that are force-fed to us, depict unhealthy relationships as healthy and violence against women as acceptable, then even a discerning individual's ability to see beneath the sparkle can waver. Even more significant than these messages' impact on the individual is the impact they can have on the group. The 'culture' part of 'rape culture' reflects the systemic and institutional schemas that normalize rape on a scale of millions. 

I am currently in the midst of conducting experimental trials regarding stereotype threat, i.e. negative stereotypes about a particular group that reduces performance on a related task. The particular stereotype threat my research focuses on is the stereotype that women are bad at math. Previous research has found that almost all American women have been exposed to and are thus influenced by this stereotype, regardless of whether they consciously believe it or are even aware of its existence. Simply checking the box that says 'female' before a math test is enough to consciously or unconsciously trigger the stereotype threat and reduce performance.

My point is that, in any discussion regarding rape culture or oppression or privilege, the words unconscious, subliminal, and implicit cannot be stressed enough. Simply by being a part of a culture, we are exposed to repetitive, frequently subtle, unrecognizable messages that we unconsciously allow to influence our beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

One example would be writers that write forced seduction scenarios. Either they have been exposed to the idea that a women who says no but then says yes after the hero ignores her original response is not rape, and

(1) thus not only consciously or unconsciously believe it themselves, but are also consciously/unconsciously sending it to the reader in equally implicit conditions because it corresponds with what societal norms say rape looks like, or

(2) consciously don't believe it, but underestimate the power of subliminal messages, particularly in the context of a culture that promotes the image of rape under narrow circumstances (which forced seduction does not fall under).

Rape thrives in part because women are blamed for the violence committed against them and because the definition of rape is frequently limited to a rape that coincides with physical violence. By writing forced seduction scenes, the author is caught in the bind that is rape culture, regardless of whether they recognize the harm their words can cause. It's a double-edged sword, one designed specifically so that women either perpetuate ideas that further their oppression or are silenced.

The other example would then be readers who intentionally or unintentionally read a forced seduction fantasy. A reader with education regarding healthy relationships or what rape looks like might be able to discern that it is, indeed, rape. Or they won't, and that'll be that. Or they won't, and this scene--coupled with other scenes and other books and other movies--might begin to chip away at what they thought they knew. Myths like gray rape might seem to gain credence.

A reader without any education regarding healthy relationships or what rape looks like might recognize it as rape. Or they might unconsciously or consciously integrate the scenario into their schemas of what rape isn't, based on what society has already taught them. If you're given two contrasting images, such as she said no/she liked it, the resulting cognitive dissonance will demand that you choose a side or find a happy medium. She said no = rape, she liked it = not rape, happy medium = it could have been rape, because she said no, but it wasn't, because she liked it.

It is rape culture when we're taught to believe that no means yes.

It is rape culture when our fiction reaffirms that no means yes and there is no context that disconnects this idea from reality.

It is rape culture when we're taught to believe that fiction that reaffirms that no means yes, without any context, doesn't harm us.

I don't consider myself to be patronizing women when I say that forced seduction scenarios are a symptom of a larger, cultural problem, one that not only sends mixed messages about what rape looks like but then also perpetuates the societal acceptance of violence against women. I don't consider myself to be patronizing women precisely because while I know for a fact that women are quite sharp, this kind of shit is sinister. 

We've been taught to believe that violence against women is acceptable, that rape is only rape if it's violent. To combat this idea we've worked hard to raise awareness and demand better, and we've seen progress. But now we face the conundrum of whether some of our attempts at progress reflect and promote the very attitudes we seek to rid ourselves of.
 
To go back to the original question of the responsibilities of the writer, I don't think that writers are obligated to teach readers appropriate beliefs and values. I do think that they are responsible and should be held accountable for the messages that their books send, messages that are reliant entirely upon the context that either validates or invalidates them, particularly when the content of the message coincides with subtle, real world attitudes and is conveyed in an implicit manner. I don't say this to censor authors or limit readers or suggest that only certain things should be written. A fantasy about a mass murderer doesn't hold the same water in terms of readers' unconscious or conscious impressions because it's quite obvious that in the real world, being a mass murderer is a Bad Idea. A romance that portrays rape as not-rape coincides with social norms that also consider some rapes as not-rape and is that much closer to normalizing and condoning narrow definitions of what rape is and what rape looks like.
 

*Though I imagine this extends to other cultures as well, being an American, I can only speak from my experience as an American.
manifesta: (Never Turn Down Tea)
To whoever purchased a month of paid time for my account, thank you! If you'd like to let me know who you are so I can thank you personally, please do. :) Ironically, I've actually been waiting for DW's new account-purchase system to go live, which it seems it has, before buying paid time for myself, which I just did. I now have 6 months of paid time in addition to the 1 month purchased for me. I hope I can pay it forward somehow.

When I was considering spending money on Dreamwidth, I always circled back to, "Why?" I could pay as much or less for a domain of my own. Avatars don't mean that much to me, though I am excited that I no longer have to cycle between my favorite ones, and honestly, the majority of the perks that differentiate between the free, paid, and premium paid accounts have never interested me. Then I wondered where that money would go and what exactly I would be paying for, if not these optional add-ons.

What sets DW apart from other blogging sites in my mind is that it supports safe spaces. It is a multi-layered community that works together, developers and members alike, to ensure that everyone feels welcome here. It's become a mecca for academic and creative types to gather and exchange ideas. In some ways I feel like to support DW is also to support a larger cultural movement of awareness and respect.

Some journals and comms that I think encourage this statement (for [community profile] followfriday!):

[community profile] hooked_on_heroines-- meta on women characters and quickly becoming very active
[community profile] ladiesbigbang-- still accepting sign-ups until April 30th! Want me to cheer for you?
[community profile] academia-- for people interested in scholarly pursuits
[community profile] fantasy-- meta on all types of fantasy, also quickly becoming more active

[personal profile] staranise-- fun, interactive posts on writing, psychology, and fandom
[personal profile] miss_haitch-- lots of yummy meta on writing, plus provides tons of great links

[community profile] three_weeks_for_dw begins on April 26th! I still haven't decided what I'm going to contribute for the fest, but I will be doing something.
manifesta: (Psych Major)
[livejournal.com profile] theinkymuse posted a discussion of how whitewashing covers impacts people of color.
 
I've already covered the Bloomsbury debacle(s), so I won't again, but definitely read the rest of his post. What I wanted to point out was how he used social cognitive theory to frame his analysis.
"The portrayal, and even preeminence, of white people that whitewashing engenders does have an affect. If we are not white, and we are not equal enough to even be put on book covers...what are we? Secondary? Inferior?

"There is a theory in psychology known as the social cognitive theory, stating that we, as individuals, form out concepts and schemata for the world from our interactions, experiences, and observations of society.

"That's what people of color are seeing and learning, and, eventually, it may even be what comes to pass. Self-fulfilling prophecies, and all that business. Because it's an identity issue, and it's an equality issue, and it's a damn important issue."
I may have said this before and in various ways, but his post solidified for me the connection between social cognitive theory and my feminist analysis of genre books and the publishing industry, and I thought I might elaborate.

By way of introduction, I am a psychology major, and within the realm of psychology I happen to specialize in social cognitive theory. "Social" psychology is the study of the interactions between individuals while "cognitive" psychology is the study of the mind. Combine the two and the result is the study of how individuals' interactions influence the mind (and vice versa).

Social cognitive theory, in the context of genre books and in my mind, means taking an interaction and the characters involved in that interaction and looking at their myriad of motivations, emotions, and investments, all of which are built upon the layers that have been laid down from the very beginning of the story and have resulted in a complex psychology of human behavior--and then working even farther backwards and looking at why the author wrote it they way they did and how, in their writing it in that specific way, their real-world biases and the limitations of their experiences are reflected.* In regards to the industry itself, it means examining what choices are made (such as the skin color of the cover models, but can also extend to include content, such as what is and is not allowed in YA books), the biases surrounding those choices, and their impact on the people who see and read those books.

What we see, if we see it often enough, we frequently internalize. Even if we consciously don't agree with something, our subconscious absorbs the stereotypes that the images that surround us present, and with enough exposure these stereotypes may develop into beliefs and attitudes that we may not explicitly show but still confirm through our subtle behaviors. Books are one medium that expose these attitudes. Hidden biases that the author may not have even known they had are no longer hidden as the veil falls away and the words on the pages of a book become an entrance to not just what the author thinks about, but what they don't think about. A privileged individual that thinks about their own privilege can at least attempt to reduce their bias on the page. A privileged individual that does not becomes glaringly obvious.

Close examination reveals our society's preference for white, cissexual, heterosexual, thin, able-bodied, male characters through the absence of non-white, LGBTQ, non-thin, disabled, transgendered, and female characters. The divisive, often exlusive, and increasingly contradictory roles and characteristics of male and female characters can be labelled with new language that pinpoints the divisive and patriarchal notions underlining them.

It's a cycle.** We not only absorb messages that reinforce societal norms (regardless of whether we actively strive not to) but we also reproduce them, often times in quiet, unnoticed ways. The latter is the only part over which we have some control; by continuing to analyze, to question, to pick apart these tropes that objectify women or justify the rape culture that is increasingly perpetuated through YA romantic fiction (next post!), we can begin to raise our level of consciousness and challenge the system in place that allows for these messages to continue to be sent.


*As a sort of disclaimer, I am often the first to defend the sanctity of the author--that the experiences and beliefs of the characters do not necessarily reflect the author's experiences or beliefs. Because x character is depressed does not necessarily mean that the author has ever, in their lifetime, experienced depression. However, I do believe that consistency and repetition across books and genre reveal not only the subtle but telling aspects of the author's schemas but also the systemic and institutional prejudices society holds against cognizant groups.

**If you want a diagram of how social cognitive theory works in this context, a rough draft version might be:

repetitive biased message in real world -->
--> author bias (conscious or unconscious)
--> repetitive biased message in a book (as seen by character actions/beliefs/choices, lack of representation, what the characters mean to each other, etc.)
--> internalization by reader
--> conscious or unconscious behavioral replication of biased message by reader
manifesta: (Coffee Shop)
I swear that post on the portrayal of women's strength and sexuality in paranormal romance and modern urban fantasy is forthcoming. I even have a decent chunk of it written. Unfortunately I have an exam and two papers due next week, and we're finalizing the script for the main experiment I'm working on. It's a design I've in been helping build from the ground up, so I'm super excited to see it go live by the end of March.

Salsa performance group also started last month. My partner and I have dreamed up some amazing moves for part of the choreography. This also means I hurt on a regular basis.

Black Widow's Walk is moving along. I adore the book but loathe writing middles. I'm pushing it forward out of sheer stubborness right now. I just finished a scene where some of the Spinners are busking on the street (stringed instruments + rain = bad) and in the next scene I return to the High Court, where one villian manipulates another villian. There will be deception involved, and someone is going to get Spun into oblivion.

This weekend I intend on studying, writing BWW, writing papers, studying, eating chocolate, seeing Valentine's Day, studying, making brownies, and celebrating a friend's birthday. Hopefully my next weekend will be more restful.

I recently reread Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith and Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn. I haven't reread Exiles in some years, so until recently I'd forgotten how utterly amazing it is. It's a complex, heartbreaking political fantasy that plays with gender roles. As always, I love love love Rawn's heroes and heroines.

Next quarter I'm going to host a giveaway contest for a book or two that I've read or reread recently that feature strong heroines. Why? Because I wish there were more books like Exiles and Skin Game and The Raven Prince, and I think the only way to change people's standards of what isn't acceptable characterization of women is to provide examples of what is.

Stay tuned.
manifesta: (Dangerous)
fiction theory has a lot of good stuff to say:

"It boiled down to me wanting to say that I think we as writers have an obligation to remember that when we write about things that they've actually happened and will happen to real people, and that our works may fall into the hands of someone unfortunate enough to have some experience, directly or indirectly, with them. But more than that, what people read shapes their attitudes and their attitudes shape their actions (or inactions) - and I think people who seek to make a profit should make sure that profit does not come at the cost of influencing bad attitudes and bad actions or harmful inactions on the part of our audiences. "
and
"Further, I don't like the implication that romance - being a female dominated field - is somehow the child of a lesser genre in the world of literature. I don't like the idea that when a man writes a romance under another genre, it's a sweeping literary classic. I do not like that men's reflections on women are given so much credibility but women's reflections on men and on themselves are devalued, relegated to genre ghettos. I do not like that somehow the women in male-written novels are seen as characters and symbols worthy of praise, but the women in women-written novels are Mary Sues. When women dare to express our desires and fantasies and dare not to stake our claim to sexuality, dare to reflect our side of the conversation when it comes sex, love, and relationships that it is automatically cheap, tawdry, infantile."
*****

Some meandering thoughts.

I. One of the reasons why I can go on and on about the implications and ramifications that various types of romance novels present is because they're written by women for women and thus reflect women, even when written badly and have traditional gender roles strewn all over the place, more than books written by men. Romance novels are a series of conundrums that at once adhere to and defy social norms. Further, I think others' responses to them--that romances are "soft" or "guilty pleasures" or not nearly as "deep" or not "real books"--are even more telling. Why are romance novels disparaged so-- and what does the answer imply?

II. I'm attempting to pick a specific topic regarding romance novels for my big feminist theory paper. My current ideas are a toss up between analyzing (1) how a woman's strength is moderated by her sexuality in paranormal romance/modern UF and (2) how heterosexual privilege is perpetuated and justified through romance novels. I realize I've touched on the former periodically but never dissected it in-depth or outside the context of other issues; one of these days I'll drum up the energy to write out a case. In regardgs to the latter, I'm thinking the Lambda awards fail, the lack of non-hetero novels that are (a) shelved in the romance section, (b) are not erotica, and (c) are preferably written by non-hetero authors, as well as the mandatory HEA or happily-ever-after that defines the genre but often exists with the very narrow confines of engagement, marriage, and a baby (even when the last isn't logically feasible).

III. In writing academic papers like these, I've often found myself thinking, "Oh! Fiction-theory had something awesome to say about this!" but being unable to quote her because an online blog isn't considered a reputable source. Instead I must cite works that have been published and established as official "feminist theory" written by official "feminists." This is frustrating, because a large chunk of my education has come from the online realm. The majority of feminist experience has been from offline community work and Livejournal. 100% of what I've learning about publishing has been from five years of dedicated online research. There is so much more knowledge out there worth having that isn't taught, or is rarely taught, in the classroom.
 
manifesta: (Rory/Logan Kiss)

I usually don't comment on ebook-related issues. However, the Macmillan vs. Amazon kerfuffle (UPDATE: Amazon folds.) has prompted me to think more about the changing landscape of digital publishing lately. 

fictiontheory said it well:
"As far as the whole e-books thing goes? I'm sticking with paperbacks until the price comes way down and there's a reader that actually makes sense. Nothing on the market is even feasible. Sony's model can't handle temperatures under 30 degrees (and in NYC, that's bad), the Kindle is too expensive and Amazon can take your purchases back any time they want, and I'm not buying a damn iPhone just for the reader."
Right now, the market is absolutely unapproachable for people who can't afford to dish out $200+ a pop for an ereader that only accepts certain ebooks or doesn't let you actually own those ebooks or doesn't have the right lighting or ink or color or doesn't have a USB port or what-have-you. I have yet to find a single solid ereader that doesn't have any number of issues. The underlying point behind ebooks is that they are our 21st century solution for convenient reading. Ebooks are supposed to save paper, reduce production lag times, and be more easily accessible--but until they can do everything a print paperback can do and then some, I would not consider ebooks or ereaders to be anywhere near an investment.

So what would it take for me to invest in both?

A streamlined ereader that contained the following:

1. The ability to read and annotate ANY file, including .pdfs, regardless of who it was published by. Until I can read anything I damn well please on it, I'm sticking with my netbook and paperbacks.
2. The ability to link to wireless internet.
3. Color and pictures. Considering how expensive it is to include printed illustrations in books, I expect that their inclusion in ebooks of the future would increase their market value and garner additional attention.
5. Unlimited book storage, or at least the ability to store books on a USB. 
6. I want to own what I purchase. Period.

And finally, I'm not going to spend $9.99 OR $14.99 on a digital copy (that would be you, Macmillan) that could be revoked at any time (and you, Amazon) of a book I could otherwise get for $7.99 in print, by any author, in color, and without the headache. And this would be after spending at least $200 on the ereader.

It's just not practical.

If the price of average ereader was brought down by A LOT, and included all of the above, I might not mind paying more per ebook. But that would require the cooperation between publishers and the companies producing ereaders, and that doesn't seem to be what's occurring here, and instead it's the reader (as well as the authors) who get screwed.
 
See related: SFWA author breaks down the debate. A long but detailed overview.
manifesta: (Black Widow's Walk)

The Invasion of Inked Heroines in Paranormal Romance from B&N:
 

"Why are these covers featuring tattooed heroines so phenomenally popular that publishers are actually featuring tattooed women even though they’re not integral to the story within? Is it because female readers want to temporarily escape reality and live life vicariously through these edgy heroines and male readers want to enjoy their literary escapism by being these sexy protagonists’ love interests? And what’s so significant about the tattoos? Do they symbolize on some level a fusion of danger, unbridled sexuality and arcane mysticism?"
I think the reason goes back to how female characters are portrayed in paranormal romance (as well as modern urban fantasy). Tattoos are another short-cut that are supposed to give the illusion of strength. Although the social acceptance of tattoos has increased over the past few decades, and I'd argue their use in covers is a definite ploy to bridge the generational gap, tattoos are still considered taboo in white, middle to upper class culture. They represent a certain amount of "edginess," an attempt to portray the character as more fringe or "Other" than they really are.

I don't think their use (in cover art or characterization) are as negative as other elements that are frequently included in how women are portrayed in PR and UF, and I can even see how an increase of women with tattoos is empowering. But I do believe it's important to question why and how the use of tattoos represent danger, sexuality, and the paranormal, as well as who they impact. If a  female character's otherwise insignificant tattoo is being played up to draw attention to a cover, then to me that says the other traits of the female character and the story itself aren't nearly as important as this one little aspect that's being used, in the span of a glance, to summarize a woman.

Black Widow's Walk

55,075/ 90,000

manifesta: (Luxurious)
Drive-by update, seeing as I have class at 8:30AM.

A few days ago I was in a rush to get to some friends' apartment and I wanted a book to read (they're gamer guys; they game, I read, it works out wonderfully) so I grabbed Blood & Chocolate off the shelf. I've read it dozens of times and it's still as amazing as it was when I was 12. Vivian is one of my favorite heroines because she's strong and beautiful and she knows it. She's not torn up about being a werewolf; she loves it.

I won't lie, the ending pissed me off the first time I read it. Eventually I came to appreciate it, and now I wouldn't have it any other way

I'm in the final stretch of reading Skin Game by Ava Gray. It's a paranormal romance that's light on the paranormal (is there such a thing as 'low paranormal fantasy'?) and the dialogue between the two protags is snappy. Kyra is a stong heroine without the help of her powers or a gun, and Reyes is adorable. I seem to be on a streak lately for picking good books from categories that I normally take issue with.

******
 
Alexandra Bracken has an extensive list of current publishing trends. Most fall somewhere along the line of what I had anticipated. I hope to see more post-apocalyptics in fantasy sometime soon (instead of YA for a change). If Guild Wars can combine a post-apocalyptic setting with fantasy elements, so can books.

I have some rambles about BWW stewing in the back of my mind, but it's getting late, so I'll leave those for another time.
manifesta: (Kahlan)
I finished reading The Onion Girl the other day and simply sat there in awe of how amazing it is. I love all of de Lint's works, but it is by far my favorite.

After winter break, I moved two dozen of my favorite books to my apartment. One wonderful thing about having them all here is that I can reread them at any time. Melanie Rawn and Anne Bishop dominate the top shelf, alongside Holly Lisle's Talyn and Hawkspar, Michael A. Stackpole's Dark Glory War (the rest of the DragonCrown War Cycle are there in spirit), and Amanda Downum's The Drowning City. On the second shelf are Jacqueline Carey's collective works, Mindy L. Klasky's Glasswrights' series, Trudi Canavan's Age of Five trilogy, M. J. Rose's Butterfly Institute trilogy, Blood & Chocolate, Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs, and a gilded tomb of Jane Austen's works. The last shelf if a motley assortment of feminist books, including Malalai Joya's A Woman Among Warlords; Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith and The Secrets of the Jin-Shei by Alma Alexander; various traditional urban fantasies or faerie tales like Palimpsest, Midnight Never Come, Holly Black's books, Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series; and random other books I have on hand or haven't read.

Random observations: I wish I had brought more books by Marjorie M Liu and Lynn Viehl, as well as some S&S or high fantasies. (I've noticed when browsing through Barnes & Noble that very few epic fantasies capture my attention these days. Having been raised on Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and their ilk, this makes me sad.)

I also noticed that 95% of the authors are female. About half are ones that I read in high school or younger. Most were marketed and shelved as adult fantasy.

These are just the ones that resonate the most with me. Others that I would add, if I had room, would include Sarah Dessan (particularly Dreamland and Just Listen), Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay quartet, Memoirs of a Geisha, various Dragonlance, everything by Tamora Pierce ever, and I'm sure there are even more that I'm forgetting.

I would love to have a hidden library some day, where I can cloister my treasures away like a dragon. I could sit and drink raspberry hot chocolate and read beautiful stories while surrounded by hundreds of other beautiful stories.

Right now I'm reading The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, and as of 94 pages in, I'm remarkably pleased and amused. The hero has done nothing abusive and the heroine isn't an idiot. In fact, I may even adore her. Now, if only I could rid myself of the niggling thought that the heroine is only allowed to exercise such common sense and rebellion (in realistic if improbable ways for the era)  because she's a widow...

*****

Also, as of last night:

Black Widow's Walk

50,105/ 90,000
manifesta: (Alex/Izzy)
The start to the new year has been lovely. Over the course of New Year's Eve I blazed through Hilari Bell's Rise of a Hero, and then through Forging the Sword, the last two books in her Farsala trilogy (the first being Fall of a Kingdom). Her style is reminiscent of Alma Alexander's in her Changer of Days duology and features many similarities, although both first books came out around the same time. I don't really consider this to be a bad thing; I think each books expands in separate directions within the context of their own worlds. I particularly enjoyed some of the innovative obstacles the protags face in RoaH.

I think it's YA, but I could be wrong. I could see it as adult epic fantasy.

Yesterday I finished Marie Brennan's Midnight Never Come, and it stuck me how ahead of the publishing trend my first two books were. My first was a contemporary fantasy when contemp/urban was just starting to expand, and my second was a contemporary faerie tale with roots in an alternative Tudor England. Books like Midnight that combined my two loves--faeries and real-world fantasy--were limited to Holly Black, Francesca Lia Block, and few others, all of which were YA.

Brennan's writing is luscious, and her leading female character a realistic mix of strength, desperation, and cunning. She also kept regional faerie lore intact, a task that must have had its difficulties.

Now, partially inspired by Brennan, I'm re-reading Charles de Lint's The Onion Girl. It has reminded me why I love urban fantasy--true urban fantasy, not the gutted version that's being reproduced over and over again today. It also reminds me of a time when women's strength in UF was portrayed through determination and character rather than the false symbolism of a vampire boyfriend or knives.

*****

Classes have started, and in lieu of finishing the last stats courses, I'm indulging in reading-focused history and women's studies courses, as well as psych of law. I'm still researching stereotypes with a professor, and will be for the rest of the year, but our direction may be changing a little-- something we discussed at our 8AM meeting this morning, 4 full hours before my first class. Ah, the sacrifices I make in the name of science. 

The sociology department is trying to lure me over to the Dark Side. They've invited me to apply to work on a grant-funded research project, which would do wonders for my resume. Tempting.

Tomorrow I get to watch Pocahontas in class. On one hand, yay. On the other hand, this is ironic, given that I just watched Avatar last weekend, and was not that impressed (via [personal profile] shiegra).
*****
 
I finally figured out how to conduct political warfare via the use of illusions in Black Widow's Walk. I'm surprised it took me so long to come to that conclusion, but now that I have, it opens up all sorts of doors. I'm officially dedicated to finishing BWW by April 1st--a date at the end of the quarter that I picked randomly, but also happens to be the 5th anniversary of the completion of my first book. (Yes, I remember things like that.) If shit happens, shit happens. Regardless, it's nice to finally have an end goal in sight.
manifesta: (Default)
Jacqueline Carey revealed her cover for Namaah's Curse! I'm not sure what to think about it...



I would hazard that this cover stems from the Ch'in, or the pseudo-Asian culture in Carey's new Kushiel trilogy. Much criticism has been leveled at her stereotypical portrayal of Asian cultures, and I wonder if this cover is just another extension of such ignorance.