January 15th, 2009


Female Stories

A couple of comments in one of my previous posts on gender bias has had me thinking. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in my own language and in knowing what the use of certain words means to me, and I forget that the nuances are not always apparent. And that is of course how you end up in discussions where people are talking at cross purposes.

I'm sure I've said, at least in the comments, that when I talk about "gender bias" in SF/F short story outlets, I mean that in looking at an average Table of Contents and adding up the number of female to male authors, the numbers are biased towards male. Biased as in a mathematical way, "greater in number". I want to be clear though that what I do not mean is that I think that editors sit down and operate in an overtly biased manner when slushing through their submissions. I do not think that editors look at the names of writers, sort them into male and female piles and then concentrate on the male one. If I thought that that was the case, that would make the discussion so much simpler and the solution so much more obvious: Don't Do that!

What I actually think is going on is something much more subtle, something that relates to taste and engagement with stories, something that very easily can be explained away by: that story didn't talk to me/interest me/gel with me/engage me and so on.

I'm talking about the point of view and voice. Always dangerous territory to dip ones blogging toes into.

So I thought I'd use two examples - two stories, both science fiction and both written by women and published by Ben and I in our 2012 anthology last year.

In "Watertight Lies", Deborah Biancotti tells a story about the increasingly worrying issue of lack of water in Australia and how it could become the kind of resource people are prepared to kill each other over in a drying, warming climate. Her main protagonist is female and much of the story is dialogue driven as the two main characters climb down a hole into a vast underground cavern linked to a groundwater spring. There is also action and violence.

In "Fleshy", Tansy Rayner Roberts tells a story of cloning and warns of technology going bad, of playing Gpd and feeds into the familiar theme of the AI taking control and taking over. Her main protagonist is also female and the setting for this story is the family home, the scenes are things that are familiar - watching the Bold and the Beautiful and Neighbours, painting toe nails as a way of bonding, eating Tim Tams, interactions between household members in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. There's violence in this story and sex and relationships. It's as scary as the Biancotti in its implications.

Both stories leave the reader unresolved and unsure of the resolution for the female leads.

I would argue that Roberts' story is a female story. It plays on female stereotypes. It focuses on interpersonal relationships. There's affection and sexual undertones. There's a lot of scene setting and description which both paint the story and set the mood. There is much more description of relationship dynamics and much less dialogue.

I would argue in comparison that Biancotti's story is a story written *by* a woman but not a female story. It's action packed, it's about motion and movement and this is used to create the suspense. The dialogue is used for backstory and for telling the current story. There is very little about this story that requires the protagonist to be female, it's more that she just happens to be female. This is more a story about the plot and about the issue than it is about human interaction.

Yet interestingly, Biancotti's story is very much about human interaction. It's a study on the way people react when pushed to the limits of survival, both in the short and long term. Roberts' story is more about male-female interaction, to me, and how they react, and react differently, when faced with a question of survival.

Both are stories by women. I think only one is a female story. I think both show that we need more stories written *by* women and *about* women. And I would argue that whilst Roberts' story explores female narrative and point of view, Biancotti's places women front and centre in a story where traditionally women would be absent. There's no real plot device centred on the fact that she's a woman and she could just as easily be a man. However, by being a woman she demonstrates a positive role model both for the idea that women can abseil and gather scientific data and outsmart the enemy in a physical battle as well as just by being a female in a science fiction story. Full stop.

last night, I had a dream

Well it was a nightmare really.

I dreamed I was the girlfriend of a serial killer. And like not in a "oh I would never have expected it, he was always so quiet and generous" kind of way. No. He killed and mutiliated their bodies in my presence. There was a lot of red in this dream. He kind of killed people in small groups - like 3 or 4 people at a time. I was quite terrified of him and convinced he was going to kill me too, considering I had witnessed some of his acts. At some point in the dream I managed to attract attention and help and run away - cause we went to a nightclub or late night bar or something and I managed to fade into the crowd with this person. But just as I thought I was on the way to being safe, the killer ran up to me in the street, kissed me passionately, in a way that made me doubt in no way how much he deeply loved me, and then removed evidence that I had been present at the scene of a killing by taking my shoes and socks from me and then vanishing.

I woke up not long after that and had that feeling, you know, like if you drift back to sleep you are going straight back into that part of the dream? So I kept willing myself to wake up more. I had to do it a couple of times before I trusted myself to get back into an uneventful sleep.

The funny thing is, I haven't watched Dexter for over a week. Thanks to a kind reader of this blog, I do have the next instalment of the show to go but I haven't ventured into it yet. I was watching the final few episodes of Heroes before bed though. And I was thinking how I don't think the genre of "horror" is a very discretised one - that a lot of what I like happens to be horror as well as something else and that Heroes is SF but some episodes very much work as Horror too. In other words, yes my serial killer could very well have been Sylar. But more than that, certainly the end half of Season 1 is very much the darker end of SF.

Anyway, final episode Season 1 is the first thing I am doing when I get home tonight.

On setting personal boundaries

I suck at enforcing my own personal boundaries. I think it comes from being a people pleaser - in social situations in any case. Even if you know me quite well, you probably don't know that I often do things I don't want to - go to events I'm not interested in, eat in places I don't really like, meet up on days I don't really feel like, sit in places that I don't feel comfortable with. I'll never tell you though, cause I like to please people in social circumstances.

I often find it hard to say no. And as such I am almost always doing something in my life I don't want to do.

It's long worried me that this could be a problem should I ever have children to raise. Or a dog to train, I spose.

I'm the absolute worst in romantic relationships - and that you probably know, if you've hung around this blog for a while. A large portion of my life with the ex was about doing things I didn't want to and I lacked the whatever it is to stand up for myself in that relationship and at least have it reciprocated some of the time. One of the things that bothered me a lot about the relationship I had with J, at the time, surrounded some moments of my lack of enforcement of my own boundaries. Which is to say, I may not always speak up and voice that I am not comfortable with something.

And that's a serious issue that I have felt I need to address for a while.

Funnily enough though, whilst I've been grappling with how to go about that, I've kind of had an epiphany in a different aspect of my life. It so happens that I think I have finally moved on from The One thing. It just kind of happened one idle Tuesday a couple of weeks ago. I don't know what happened or how it finally got sorted so quickly and so completely as it did, but it did. Tansy has been long hammering me in the head about it. And frankly, given that she's the one who likes fairytales and I'm the one who likes space opera, I really don't know how it is that my view of the world stayed so steeped in fantasy. But I've been thinking a lot about thought and action and reaction and so on and Dirk has been talking so much with me about Buddhist philosophy and there is so much strength to be found in it. And suddenly I started to be able to take control of a lot of my inner world. And discovered that when you do that, you blow around a lot less and you remain a lot more grounded. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. And as Dirk tells me, you drive your emotions, they don't drive you. And then you will know who you really are.

And probably that's where it all comes full circle. Cause Dirk suggested to me that I would never really be able to find someone to spend my life with, unless I first know who I am. And when I know who I am, then I will know what I am looking for, what I am not willing to compromise on and to be able to set personal boundaries, I guess. So for a couple of weeks now I've been trying to answer that question - who am I? Who am I really?

And bugger me - I discovered that no bloody wonder my love life history looks like it does. Because the answer to that question has always been the two bit whore on the street corner: I'm anyone you want me to be, baybee. Rather than looking for someone to fit me, I have been molding myself to fit in with others. Big surprise there on the whole that doesn't last and doesn't make you happy thing. And when you start figuring out who you are, it's so much easier to look at someone else and say, well I don't enjoy that or that's not something I am willing to do. What happens? You start to *know* what your boundaries are and it turns out that once you do know them, there's no big great leap forward required to *enforce* them. Because once you say who you are, not enforcing your boundaries pushes you into being someone you are not. And that suddenly becomes not just uncomfortable but intolerable.

And so I've been on this big quest for looking for The One thinking that person had some key and that key would fit inside my lock. And maybe they do have the key but if I don't know what the lock looks like, how can I ever know what shape the key has to be? And further on from that ... I always thought that the key had to be made up of things a person likes to do - their job, their interests, their pursuits. But it turns out it's not that at all. And thus it is no great surprise when it doesn't work out with someone who looks good on paper. It turns out, it's about who a person is, not what they do. And fuck me but I thought I knew that years ago! Because as Dirk so eloquently put it - if a person possesses respect, tolerance, intelligence, understanding, interest and support in you and who you are, they will mesh with you. By definition. And there is more than one person, surely, who can do that. Thus there is no The One.


And so ... with all the above as a brief outline of where my head has been. I am blogging to say that lately I have been enforcing personal boundaries. And it feels kind of weird. It's not hard and it's not something I am forcing myself to do. It just happens. And ...