manifesta: (Psych Major)

In case you missed the profile desciption, [personal profile] manifesta is an evolving project that explores genre fiction and the publishing industry from a feminist psychological lens. I'm Kayla, 20 years old, heterosexual, cisgendered, white, currently able-bodied, and female. I'm a psych major and coffee addict residing in the City of Subdued Excitement. My goal is to examine how fantasy, romance, and YA books reflect societal norms and impact readers. 

For examples of the kind of meta that I do, see The Grandmaster List of Interesting Posts.

manifesta: (Kahlan)

[Partially written on 10/10/10 before life got in the way and other manifestas needed to be written.]

I just got back into Seattle this evening and thus I bring you as much of a first report on the epic that is Sirens Conference as my brain (which is still on mountain time and thus precisely one hour ahead) can handle before collapsing into mush.

First impressions include: OMG PRETTY; an undeniable attraction to shiny, glittery things; sheer gratitude that free caffeine was offered at almost every opportunity; relief that everyone was chill and awesome; and the sense of being welcomed, by the Sirens staff, the Vail Cascade resort staff, and the attendees.

Sirens is a labor of love. It really is. This isn't a huge, sprawling con with hundreds or thousands of attendees; it's still in its infancy, a baby conference trying out its wings for the first (or in this case, second) time. The staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to make sure every person's experience was positive, respectful, and fun. They set the tone for the conference, and it could not have happened without their hard work.

As one of the organizers explained at the keynote, Sirens is a motley combination of various qualities found in different types of cons--it's part academic, part fannish, and part retreat. All three elements (plus more that I probably forgot) contributed to the experience, and although I went primarily for the academic bent, the fannish side of me skipped around in glee at all the pro-female geekery going down, and I felt the retreat aspect all the way down to my bones.

My presentation (on portrayals of women's strength and sexuality in urban fantasy and paranormal romance) went very well. I spoke for about 40 minutes (the longest amount of time that I think I have ever spoken in my life) before we dived into a great discussion. One thing I noticed about all the presentations, panels, and roundtables was that every person in the room simply loved the topic at hand. Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic and wanted to be there. I'll do a break down of some of the programming that I went to in the next post, but for now suffice to say every last bit of it was fabulous, and I came back feeling both relaxed and re-energized. 

Additionally, I'd like to thank some people for their support both before and during the conference: To those who have commented on any topic on my DW prior to my presentation and thus helped shaped my analysis, for your bravery and your insight; to Dr. Laura Vivanco, who was incredibly generous in giving her time to edit my paper; to one of my professors, who will remain anonymous so her name isn't associated with my journal, but was also very supportive in looking over my paper and giving both her encouragement and advice; and to my new friends that I made while at Sirens and the people who made the conference into a safe, welcoming space. It was an enriching, inspiring experience and I encourage anyone who has been thinking about it to register for next year's con* (the theme of which is monsters! Lots of good meta there).

*The registration fee for next year's con is $150 if you register here before November 1st. I also recognize that the expensive nature of the con is significant in many ways, which I promise to address in my next report.
manifesta: (Psych Major)

Just a drive-by update to say: my paper's done, my presentation's ready, I am (theoretically) ready, and my plane leaves Seattle bright and early tomorrow morning for Denver. I'm grateful to be presenting first thing on Friday at 10AM; I'll have the rest of the weekend to kick back and relax.

If anyone else will be at Sirens and wants to meet up, feel free to email me at manifesta dot dreamwidth dot org. I'm taking this as an opportunity to unplug from the cyberworld (for the most part), but I'll still be checking my email.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend, and I'll be sure to report back sometime within the next week or so.  

manifesta: (Kahlan)
As of last night, the rough draft of my Sirens paper is DONE! It's currently at 10 pages, but will likely grow to be 12 or so.

"Tough Chick"

3217 / 4000 words. 100% done!

I'm currently doing a first pass over it, but I could use 1-2 betas if anyone is interested. This is what it's about. Just drop a comment with your email or email me at manifesta at dreamwidth dot org.

Thank you everyone for your support thus far! Sirens sent me a Vail postcard today, and I'm becoming more excited as the con gets closer.
manifesta: (Harry/Ginny) collect my brain and prepare for the upcoming quarter. I should probably also write my Sirens paper. No, really.

If anything spectacular occurs in publishing, I may drop by with a post or two.

'Til then.

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: (Lily/James)
I turn 21 today! Woohoo! So in honor of my birthday: a happy post!

I recently finished re-reading the Glasswrights series by Mindy L. Klasky. I have so much love for this series, y'all. I don't even know.

Okay, okay, maybe I do.

cover of the glasswrights' apprenticecover of the glasswrights' progresscover of glasswrights' journeymancover of glasswrights' testcover of the glasswrights' test
"If you want to be safe... mind your caste. In a kingdom where all is measured by birthright, moving up in society is almost impossible. Which is why young Rani Trader's merchant family sacrifices nearly everything to buy their daughter an apprenticeship in the Glasswrights' Guild - where honor and glory will be within her reach.

But being in the wrong place at the wrong time places Rani in the middle of a terrible conspiracy that leaves the Royal Prince dead - and her guild torn asunder. Branded a traitor, she slinks through the city streets, changing her identity to avoid being caught. And as Rani rises from the city slums to the royal household, she uncovers an elusive brotherhood whose deadly venom reaches out to stain the heart of her guild, the heart of her family - and the heart of her king...." #

Rani is strong, independent, and crafty. She's a negotiater by birth, a guildsman by profession, and a noble by association. She works with what she has and she tries to do her best, but she's also flawed, and screws up in big ways. In every book she's forced to make difficult, terrible choices that don't end with everything working out okay.

It's this theme of choices that I really love. This isn't a super dense, hugely detail-oriented epic fantasy, but it brings out some of epic fantasy's best qualities because the gambles and sacrifices she makes, that she must make. She pushes her own story forward, even when she's a lost child on the streets of Moren, wanted for murder and despised by the Guild that she left to die. And these aren't black and white choices with which she eventually makes her peace, either; they're neither wrong nor right, and she wrestles with them throughout the rest of the series.

Another wonderful facet is the healthy perspective on women's sexuality. Rani is involved in more than one relationship throughout the series and her opinions on sex and the opinions of those around her are all positive. It's incredible seeing a woman's sexuality and sexual relationships acknowledged as both worthwhile and fulfilling in a novel that is firmly a fantasy (rather than a romance). The men she becomes involved with are flawed, for sure, but refreshingly normal.  They're more than aware (and comfortable with the fact) that Rani is a self-assured, capable woman, and they don't overshadow her or attempt to save the day.

It's an incredible, incredible series, and the cover art is gorgeous. Don't miss it.

The Glasswrights' Apprentice at Barnes & Noble. More reviews at Goodreads.
manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)
ALSO EDITED TO ADD: Please read [personal profile] ephemere's post Patalim first. (Trigger warning for descriptions of violence.)  I just now ran across it and it is so, so much more eloquent and important. I tried to choose a quote that best encapsulates it, but you should really read the whole thing. Go on. This post will still be here when you get back.

Elizabeth Bear really, really should have gone away and thought long and hard before commenting.

Words associated with historical representations are not "mythologized."
To convert into myth; mythicize.
1. To construct or relate a myth.
2. To interpret or write about myths or mythology. #
The background behind "deathmarch" is real. There is nothing mythic about respecting the experiences of those who have been systematically dehumanized and slaughtered or the people who belong to one or more cultures scarred by those experiences.

While I do not equate "deathmarch" with gender, sexuality, or ethnic insults, they belong to the same spectrum of violence and reflect very similar attitudes. "Deathmarch" resides at the very end of that spectrum, but casual insults that enable some groups of people to marginalize other groups of people and wittle them down to lesser-than-human are at its start. Tell me: does choosing not to use "gay" as an insult mythologize the word? I ask because I have a feeling that people who will cheerfully defend the use of "deathmarch" would be less inclined to defend the use of less socially acceptable insults such as "gay," even  though those insults do not hold the same resonance as a term that implies large-scale murder.

Words have power. Pretending they don't have power, or shouldn't have power, only increases the power they do have--through ignorance. By using words related to marginalized groups' identities or experiences in such a casual context, we choose to erase and mythologize what those words represent.

From [personal profile] megwrites:
"Because what's a deathmarch to you, after all? Just a word for you to play with. Because it's not part of your history as a white citizen of the U.S. Because you don't look back and get to say "I don't know what nation any of my ancestors come from because they were rounded up, enslaved, had their names stripped, and became animals to those who bred, sold, and used them like property." Because nobody's ever rounded up your friends and neighbors and family members and shipped them like boxes or cattle to a place where they were intended to be worked to death or killed outright. Because nobody's ever come to you and said "sorry, this home you live in isn't yours, gotta go" and held a gun to you and make you walk from GEORGIA TO OKLAHOMA. Because your home, the place where you reside, has not seen active aggression from a foreign combatant in centuries. Because of course murder and torture and genocide are banal to you. They don't touch or affect you personally or culturally, so why shouldn't you play around with those words.

They don't hurt you after all. So why shouldn't you say "Soup Nazi" or "deathmarch" or any of those things. It isn't like it hurts you, and if it doesn't hurt you, it's obviously not important, is it?" #
Edited to add a few things and shuffle the post around for clarity. I apologize for any confusion.
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: (Battle Eyeliner)

It seems the interwebs has suddenly decided to provide me with plenty of fodde-- I mean, food for thought.

Hannah Moskowitz discusses "the boy problem" in YA.

"The problem we're talking about is fairly simple: boys don't read YA. This isn't an issue of "boys don't read"--we're not talking about these boys. We're talking about avid readers, boys who ate up middle grade but go to adult fiction and non-fiction instead of passing through YA, and nobody really knows why."
I agree with some of her bullet points, but she loses me about halfway through with this:

this cut has been brought to you by the Society for Shorter Reading Pages (SSRP) )
Tamora Pierce posted an eloquent reply on her own blog.

just kidding about that society thing )

With this, I think the "there is no YA for boys" myth has been adequately debunked. I also don't think I need to address the fact that why yes, Harry Potter is YA, or that pretending one of the best selling books in the world isn't YA is quite convenient when that series happens to be about a boy and the discussion is about boys in YA.  

Which allows me to move on to what the heart of the boys-in-YA debate is really about, and the underlining belief system of Moskowitz's post: That by writing about girls, by empowering girls, we have somehow managed to disempower boys through a lack of representation or quality of characterization. And in believing this, can we go back to the boys now, please? (Also known as Sarah Palin's so-called feminism.) 

There have been similar arguments recently made  in various arenas, including politics and academia. They say we achieved equality, we finally made it, but in doing so we also disempowered men.* The gender and women's studies programs are too exclusive, they say. We need to study men more! Men are four times more likely to commit suicide, they say, and more women than men are graduating college. Naturally, the people to blame are the women, what with all the time and money spent catching up from that problem with no name thing. Meanwhile the poor men have had their masculinity withered away.

This is called backlash. I tried to find a link that describes it in better detail than I can, but the posts I've read in the past have been lost in the nether. Backlash is when a movement toward equality for a marginalized group gains momentum and the privileged group(s) freak out. This usually takes the form of denying that there's a problem or firmly announcing that the problem has been taken care of, all while doing a little dance in the opposite corner of the room to refocus the attention on who's really suffering.

Yes, boys deserve to have books written about them as much as girls. But it seems to me that we aren't talking so much about whether there are books out there for boys as we are about whether we perceive there to be as many books for boys  in comparison to the surge of books for girls. It also reminds me of how minority groups are often perceived as the numeric majority in a room even when they only represent 30% of its composition. The current ratio of boy to girl books (if we must abide by gender roles here) is closer to being equal than that, but in comparison to all the books written for boys in the past? No. We've come a long way, but it's still an uphill battle. And if there are more girls than boys represented in YA right now, it's because they've never had this kind of significant representation before.

Moskowitz asked, " many books about girls do we need before we can consider that a job well done?"

Make no mistake: We're just getting started. Advocating for more books for boys is one thing, but shifting the blame onto girls and women undermines the tentative progress** we have made and neglects to take into account the intersection of social systems of power and the books that we read.

*Although I don't understand how we achieved equality AND disempowered men at the same time.

**And by tentative, I mean entirely relative. See my posts on YA and rape culture.

As an aside, I don't know if I agree 100% with the entirety of Tamora Pierce's post. I'm not up for trying to figure it out at the moment, however.
manifesta: (Dangerous)

Trigger warning: The following post and all links discuss rape culture.

The Book Smugglers recently discussed why they didn't like Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. It's your run of the mill, textbook example of rape culture and victim blaming in YA. The authors wrote an excellent post on it, and I wasn't going to do much more than pass the link along until I saw the author's reply in the comments.

author statement under cut )
Two things about this book make the distinction between victim-blaming-and-not-victim-blaming a little fuzzy: 1) The example isn't actually about rape, but about being attacked by werewolves, and 2) one of the characters tries to justify her bias by suggesting that if x group of people only knew what horrible things they were inviting by dressing like y, then of course they wouldn't do so. With the subtext being that if you did know better, and merrily continued along anyway, well then it'd just be your fault, now wouldn't it?

Certainly, the passages picked out by the Book Smugglers can be given the benefit of the doubt. The trouble is that simply because the author didn't intend for the characters to victim-blame, doesn't mean they don't.

Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit. Rape culture is our society-wide, culturally ingrained perspective that says women are responsible for stopping the violence against them and deserve what they get when they don't. Rape culture is when someone says this interpretation of violence against women is incorrect--and gets shouted down for it. Rape culture is when the person or persons who did the shouting are also corrected--but refuse to examine where they might have gone wrong.

Rape culture is saying that something does not stem from rape culture, simply because you never intended it to be. All while forgetting to go back to rules number one and number two: Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit.

We are not always aware of the biases we hold, against both our in-groups and our out-groups. We are not always aware of the associations we unconsciously maintain even if we consciously do not condone them.

This is why intentions do not matter. Regardless of what someone intends, we are the sum of our society. You may not have intended to write a scene that involves victim-blaming, it may insult your very being to even consider that you could have done so, but rape culture is by nature so insidious that it permeates our lives, our relationships, our writing. You may not have intended anything, but intentions fall flat in the face of what actually happened.
manifesta: (Saving the World)
A quick thank you to all those who posted some love on [personal profile] petra's Be Excellent to Each Other meme. I really appreciated all your comments about my work here at [personal profile] manifesta, especially considering how burnt out I've been feeling lately. <3 I'm hoping to join in with some more love of my own soon, too.

There's been some discussion recently regarding the presence of women fantasy writers over at [ profile] xicanti's journal. Apparently the general consensus seems to be that female authors are not nearly as prevelant in secondary world/epic fantasy as much as contemporary, urban, or romantic fantasy. I find this interesting, because my bookcases are filled with female fantasy writers.

Some examples include Anne Bishop, Melanie Rawn (who, to me, defines the term 'epic fantasy'), Holly Lisle, Mindy L. Klasky, Trudi Canavan, Jacqueline Carey, Amanda Downum, Violette Malan (currently reading), Sara Douglass, Elizabeth Haydon, Sherwood Smith, Tamora Pierce, and more. Women have been incredibly influential in the evolution of the genre. Margaret Weis and Laura Hickman were two out of the three leading authors of Dragonlance. And what about Mercedes Lackey? So to quote [ profile] xicanti: "It’s not that women are producing little in the way of quality fantasy--it’s just that they get less press."

Indeed. I do think that there is an underrepresentation of women in epic fantasy in comparison to male authors, but female fantasy authors are not unicorns.
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." #


manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)

A new SF anthology is coming out titled "Before They Were Giants." Of the 15 contributing authors, only 1 is a woman.

[ profile] cassiphone's periodic table of SF women:

"One of the most frustrating responses I heard to the ‘Before they were Giants’ discussion, itself the latest in a long line of TOC rows, was the kneejerk “but there just aren’t as many women who are giants in the field.”

"[...] Because of course there were women. And it’s time to stop and think about the fact that the majority of authors considered “giants” in the history of field are male. Is it really because their books were better? Because what they were saying was more important? Because more people were talking about them, critiquing them, being influenced by them? Are we absolutely certain that none of those things could have been affected by societal pressures other than the pure “quality” of the text?"
The editor of the anthology responded here. (Also indicates that nonwhite and LGBTQ authors were not considered.)

[ profile] strangedave on the lack of female representation in SF anthologies. Apparently and a few others have been criticized for criticizing the lack of diversity.
"And we are still having this conversation in the SF field after at least 35 years. If just politely helping people become aware of the issue worked, we wouldn't still be talking about it. And yet, it keeps happening, again and again. People are still putting together anthologies without even thinking about gender as an issue — and the only way to make them think about the issue is to make sure it isn't thought of as just a nicety, just another thing to try and improve that fellow editors will give you hints about (like font choice, or cover layout), but rather as something that is a major mistake if you get it wrong, something that will attract not mild criticism but anger. Anger is entirely appropriate. No one should expect not to get publicly called on their big mistakes, rather we should all endeavour not to make them, and learn to handle them gracefully when we do (as, to his credit, Sutter largely has)."

When fail is put on the interwebs, I consider it free game. If it's relatively isolated incident that doesn't impact a ton of people, I might contact the author(s) privately or on their own site and address the issue there. But this is an anthology that we're talking about; it's going to be on physical bookshelves and it's going to impact people who will never run across the discussions that are happening right now on the internet. That anthology is not going to come with a disclaimer that apologizes for its silencing of nonwhite, LGBTQ, and female SF writers. And so if the only option availiable is to discuss its inherent privilege all over the internet, then that's what I intend to do.

For additional reading: A partial podcast transcript about the debacle.

manifesta: (Coffee Shop)

[ profile] m_stievater (Maggie Stiefvater) on writing gender and YA, bold emphasis mine:

"Okay, so I need to bring this back around to my writing philosophy. And it’s this: yes, I know there are women and men who are wildly different from one another, who fall classically along gender lines. But I also know that there are those who are not that different, the ones who have escaped or resisted a lot of the influences that makes us pink-clad shoppers versus muscle-bound Maxim readers. And when I write, my characters will often be plucked from that latter group. Boys who read poetry and girls who swear and guys who play music and chicks who love cars. I refuse to see the gender gap in YA fiction as a chasm of fixed proportions. I refuse to constantly make sure my girls are acting “girly” and my boys are acting “guyish.” That would mean letting current mores define gender and character for me."

This is the kind of vision I love to see in authors and books.

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.
[ profile] melissa_writing (Melissa Marr) on sex in YA books.
[personal profile] kaigou on the dynamics of fandom part 1. With colorful diagrams!
[ 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: (Psych Major)

About two months ago I mentioned Sirens Conference and the proposal I was working on for it. Turns out my proposal was accepted! The project is titled Tough Chick: Portrayals of Women's Strength and Sexuality in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance and if it sounds familiar, that's because it's the MUF/PR series I promised a while back and never finished writing. It will be a multi-angle examination of how women's strength is mediated by their sexuality, with a strong emphasis on applied social cognitive theory (or society-author-text and text-reader-society relationships and how unconscious beliefs based on pervasive societal norms can be transmitted/perceived implicitly).

I'm not 100% certain yet if I'll be able to attend the conference (I'm currently working on funding), but I wanted to share the good news. Holly Black, Terri Windling, and Marie Brennan (who I quote a lot here) are the Guests of Honor this year, and I know that Tamora Pierce will also be attending. If anyone else is attending, let's get in touch!

manifesta: (Dangerous)

One of the reasons for my radio silence has been a historical analysis paper on white feminity and sexuality in early romance novels (1950s-70s). Have I mentioned that my women's studies/history professors are benevolent and wonderful and let me write about genre books?

I turned in that paper earlier this week, and now I have some time on my hands before finals to reflect on it. I think it was one of my better papers on romance novels; the process also introduced me to quite a bit of excellent research that I can use for other projects, including this journal.

I'm going to preface this by acknowledging that I can be very critical of romance novels. I'm also very critical of fantasy (I'm waiting to hear back on a presentation proposal regarding urban fantasy/paranormal romance) as well as young adult (re: YA & rape culture) but I tend to pick on romance in particular. I believe, and even more so now after writing my last paper, that romance novels have the potential to change how women think about ourselves and each other. They can be an outlet for dreams, desires, fears, and unexplored possibilities. Their influence as a pop culture phenomenon is frequently underestimated--something I'll delve into later on. Romance novels are written by women, for women, and are about women, a trend that's increasing in other genres but has strong roots in romance. There's power in that, and it's heady stuff. 

What I've noticed is that there is a certain stigma against criticism within the romance community. I see it as backlash against two things. A lot of feminist criticism has taken gleeful aim at romance novels, most often in an unflattering fashion that condemns romance novels as a whole without acknowleding their positive aspects or diversity. Likewise, the general media and American culture also tends to portay romance novels as fluffy fantasies and romance readers as bored, uneducated housewives with nothing better to do. There's a lot of rage in response to these accusations and dismissals, and a lot of hurt. Further, the rage and the hurt stems from the way women have been and continue to be treated as lesser--a socio-cultural norm that rears its misogynistic head whenever women or emotional content become the focus of the story.

So this me saying that I acknowledge the hurt and the rage, and the history behind it. And this is also me saying that when I criticize romance novels, it is not because I think romance novels are purely wish-fulfillment fantasies or lesser-than. It is also not because I believe women are stupid.*

I bring up the issue of criticism of romance novels precisely because there is a connection between how women are treated and how romance novels are perceived. It isn't a coincidence that women just so happen to be systemically and institutionally oppressed, it isn't a coincidence that romance writers and readers just so happen to consist predominantly of women, and it isn't a coincidence that romance novels take the heat from both sides when one side sees them as a threat to women's empowerment and the other sides sees them as a threat to male privilege and thus, in the interest of self-preservation, both sides choose to condemn them.

The unconditional feminist criticism of romance novels is backlash against what some feminists see as the perpetuation of heterosexual, monogamous, frequently white gender roles. The empowering aspects of romance novels are eclipsed in the rush to generalize. Is this quality of unconditional criticism justified? No. Is it understandable that feminist critics have reacted out of a similar hurt and rage as romance writers and readers when they feel that women--because that is who and what it boils down to--are being threatened, dismissed, or silenced? Yes. There are very real feelings on either side, feelings that can lead to blanket statements and end up pitting women against women. 

The media, on the other hand, dismisses romance novels as lacking in value because society dismisses women. American culture is riddled with double standards, and unless women conform to specific gender roles, they're either castigated or ignored, and if they do conform to specific gender roles, they might be acknowledged, but only in a context that subtly invalidates them in comparison to men. Because romance novels frequently do, in general, conform to the "feminine" gender role, it's easy for the media to dismiss them and thus by extension dismiss women.

The question of how the romance community can convince the rest of the world that romance novels aren't fluff has been bounced around for decades. The romance community wants respect; they want to be reviewed by major newspapers alongside the literary and crime novels; they want to be able to read their books on their lunch breaks at the office without being looked down upon or hiding the cover. They want respect for romance novels.* They want respect for women.

The feminist community views romance novels as tools used to perpetuate strict gender roles, heterosexuality, the virgin/whore dichotomy, and beyond. They want more egalitarian gender roles and more representation outside traditional identities. They want respect for women.

The two communities, at their core, want the same things. Both acknowledge that women are the bottom line and the ones being shafted by society. However, miscommunication and statements made out of fear and anger have resulted in creating the illusion that there's a boundary between the two, an utter incompatability. I don't subscribe to this illusion. Feminism and romance novels are not mutually exclusive.

Romance novels can be empowering for women.  Women authors writing about women to an almost exclusively female audience in a genre that consists of half the paperback sales in the country--that's strength. Women characters featured as heroines who have the potential to chase after love, money, sex, AND world domination (still waiting on this one, but I'm sure it's forthcoming)--that's power.

But romance novels can also be disempowering. When what women have created as a tool for enjoyment, empowerment, and to a certain extent fantasy is appropriated in the name of patriarchal goals and values or are imbued with qualities that silence, confine, and narrowly define women, that hurts women. And it's time to stop pretending that everything's fine by shutting out any hint of criticism regarding these elements of internalized sexism and take back what's ours.

In Part 2 I'll be taking a more in-depth approach in dissecting how romance novels can both empower and disempower women through either the breaking down or the perpetuation of patriarchal social norms. Stay tuned.

*I linked to two very different statements by Carolyn Jewel, a romance novelist nominated for two RITAs this year, to illustrate how powerful the stigma against criticism is. The second link, her essay on romance novels and respect, demonstrates a strong knowledge of romance and how it's perceived by society. The first link is a dismissal of a feminist critique as patronizing. The points she made in her essay and the points I made in my critique of forced seduction scenarios are both in support of women's empowerment, but because my critique was interpreted as (paraphrasing) "women are stupid," any potential for compromise was dismissed. Further, I think that the internalized sexism inherent in some romance tropes is frequently ignored because of the assumption that if women wrote it, then it can't support patriarchal ideals (or if it does, who cares?). I'll talk about this more in the next post.
manifesta: (Coffee Shop)
Sumayyah on faith, choice, & sexuality:
"So, the young adult literature world has (for some time) been all abuzz with talk about female sexuality. It's a hot topic that's been debated and talked about and explored forever. I have very strong opinions about it, about who gets to regulate it (if anyone at all) and whether or not women have it (because, apparently, some people think that women don't have red hot blood running through their veins. or hormones.). And when you boil it down, my opinion is this: choice and freedom.

[...] As a Muslim, I choose to wear the headscarf, I choose to remain a virgin until I get married and I choose that I will shank any man that thinks I'm going to do different. Similarly, another friend can choose to sleep with her boyfriend, she can choose to wear tight clothes and strut her stuff, and she can choose to laugh in the face of the people who thinks she's wrong for doing so.

I think that as a world we need to stop trying to simultaneously suffocate and liberate our girls and women. Educate them. Let them choose. Don't make girls feel like they're sluts for choosing a sexual life. And don't make girls feel guilty for choosing to pick one sexual partner and stick with them. For not wanting to flaunt her body for you."