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What Goes Around...

I'm in another Storybundle this month--another of those "Women In" collections, this time Fantasy, and as usual it's a great communal experience. We all get together, help each other push the bundle, and read other's books. It's fun, it's profitable. It spreads the word about a variety of books and writers.

This one has me thinking about the whole "Women In" phenomenon, and where fantasy used to be versus where it is now. What goes around comes around, but there's always a new angle to it, one way or another.

It's been interesting watching fantasy evolve out of the primordial soup that was, primarily, Tolkien. There were other ancestors, of course, and other strains of fantasy, but by the end of the Sixties, Tolkien was the one name that ruled them all.

Out of Tolkien came the clones. Some were so close that they followed the actual plot outline of The Lord of the Rings, and a handful of those sold as well as if not actually better than the original. There were actually readers who complained that Tolkien was a bad copy of his own bad copies.

And that was the Seventies, and a good chunk of the Eighties.

In the Eighties, something happened to the perception of fantasy as a genre. Very Serious People decided that fantasy was easy, fluffy, comfy, and you just made it up as you went along. It therefore followed, by the logic of such things, that it was full of girl cooties. Real writers wrote science fiction, which was brawny, male, and preferably hard.

Of course there were guy fantasy writers, and some of them were monster bestsellers, but for the most part, fantasy was the province of the Female Fantasy Writer. I still have my pink FFW button from that era, and the pink fluffy bunny it's pinned to.

It all seems rather quaint now, and it's been pretty much forgotten as the women's side of history so often is. Somewhere in the Nineties, fantasy stopped being a girl thing and turned into a guy thing, so that come the new millennium, Very Serious People were very seriously declaring that women were just beginning to enter the male realm of fantasy.

The one exception being urban fantasy: you know, the one with the tight leather pants and the vampires and werewolves. And a few guys making buckets of money off it, but mostly it's full of girl cooties. Real fantasy is brawny, male, and epic.

Nobody is going on about how you just make it up as you go along, which is a big improvement. But the old divide is still there, and so is the age-old putdown of the women's side.

This is an old song. Really, really old--as old as what we know of human history.

A few days ago, through my Twitter feed, I happened across Mary Beard's lecture on "The Public Voice of Women." It's a couple of years old, but the subject matter is truly timeless.

Beard argues that women's voices have been diminished and silenced for millennia. Women were told to shut up in Greece, in Rome, in the Western Middle Ages (and from what I know of history in general, this is by no means unique to Western Europe). She lists example after example and source after source. It's endemic. It's deeply embedded in the culture.

What's amazing to me is not so much that this has been going on for so long, but that it's now being called out, and people are making an actual effort to change it. Of course there's backlash, and some of it is seriously ugly. But the ugliness is being called out, too. It's no longer possible to just reflexively diss the female voice. There are, finally, consequences.

That's major. It can get really, really tiresome to fight the same battles over and over and over again, and to watch the older battles and the women who fought them be systematically and consistently erased. But when I realize how deeply ingrained the silencing of women is, I find it all the more remarkable that there's actual, perceptible progress. Women's voices are actually being heard--and sometimes even being taken seriously.

Just watching television from the Sixties, or reading books from the Seventies, I can see how perceptions have changed. I'm right now in the middle of a reread series for, rereading the early works of one of the foremothers of modern fantasy, Katherine Kurtz. The books are holding up, for me, much better than I ever thought they would, but their gender politics is dire. It's also completely in period, and in character, for the early Seventies when the books were published.

In these books, beginning with Deryni Rising, the protagonists are all male, and the medieval setting is heavily and unquestioningly patriarchal. The female characters are few, and every one is in some way problematical. They're all either evil sorceresses, flutterbrained idiots, or Noble Females On Pedestals. None of them is a rounded human being. That's reserved for the male characters.

And that was completely normal and unobjectionable around about 1972. It really is striking that, less than forty-five years later, it's not only seen as a problem, it's no longer the standard approach to female characters in fantasy. Even if the writer doesn't honestly believe in women as human beings, he still comes under pressure to make a show of writing Strong Female Characters.

That's a sea change. Will it last? Now there's a question.



Welcome back!

Afraid I can't comment usefully on whether it's a sea change or not, but perhaps I can ask a quick question.

I've just bought the story bundle and enjoyed the excerpt of Tides of Darkness. Would you recommend reading the first two volumes of 'Avaryan Resplendent' first?

Any important stuff I'd miss if I didn't?


>>> Out of Tolkien came the clones. Some were so close that they followed the actual plot outline of The Lord of the Rings, and a handful of those sold as well as if not actually better than the original. There were actually readers who complained that Tolkien was a bad copy of his own bad copies.

What clones that sold as well as Tolkien are you talking about?


The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant?

Guy Kay? ( Who helped organise the papers of JRRT that eventually made up "The Silmarrilion" )


I wonder whether some of this perception might be attributable to when someone started reading, whether fantasy or other genres. I started with Asimov for SF, and Agatha Christie for mysteries at about the same time, age 12. Neither of these authors seemed preoccupied with sex or sex roles. In fact, Asimov mostly ignored sex in his stories while both of Christie's two main characters (Poirot, Marple) were sexual outsiders - intellectual and personally disinterested with sex. The first fantasy novels I read were by MZBradley (Darkover) where although stereotyped sex roles figured, the main thread seemed more concerned with the types of power/influence an individual might amass and how power might in turn constrain someone's life, including the most powerful.

Having good public librairies and large book stores also helped mostly so I that I wasn't distracted or misled by the quality of books typically found in the other major distribution channel,i.e., grocery and drug store chains. (Okay - these stores are good for picking up pocket size puzzle books when last-minute packing for a road/business trip. But readable books - ugh!)

I really don't care whether the author is male or female. Ditto for the characters unless the book is specifically examining gender roles (LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein). When I find an author or a universe that I like, I read/buy. Ironically - for this topic thread anyway - Moon probably did the best job in describing the day-to-day life of an army grunt.


Interesting question. I wondered whether one way to test the trend would be to: 1) collect a representative corpus of fantasy fiction from the last few decades 2) read them all and determine whether each passes an equivalent of the Bechdel test (two women who discuss something other than men). Perhaps two female protagonists? 3) Plot the trend on a graph.

I also note, slightly tangentially, that there appears to be a similar trend in films. Exhibit A: Ghostbusters (the all-female remake). Although it is possible that these are films created by men who are in effect realizing, as you describe, that strong female characters might sell. Ghostbusters has a male director and only one female writer


I wasn't up to date on the Ghostbusters remake (is it a reboot or a sequel?), so I did a quick search. The article I read was nice enough, but the comments section; sweet Jesus, round about comment three it devolved into an outraged circlejerk about how hard men have it in life and how bad the movie is going to be because there are women in it. Stop reading before I hurt myself.

Which reminded me that this is actually the only site whose comments I routinely read. Even the ones I skip over are simply incoherent rather than painful. Bravo all.

Sorry for a bit of a derail here. In other news, some of the guest-blogger's previous posts have led to my local library purchasing some recent high-grade SF from female authors, which is nice.


These things to run in cycles; so there is some reason to worry that today's "sea change" is tomorrow's forgotten legacy. I am hoping this won't be the case, but I am old enough not to be too optimistic.

The movies of the 30s/40s tended to have better female characters than the 50/60s. There were more women entering the professions/academia in the 20s-40s than in the 50s/60s. Religious historians have tracked the large role women play in the Awakening phase of Revivals and how 20 years later women have been marginalized in the establishment phases of the same cycle.

I can think of plenty of male fantasy writers from the 80's and female fantasy, non-urban, from the 90s. But I don't want to argue from anecdotal evidence. As an insider you might have a better sense of the field than I. It would be interesting if we could find an objective way to track the changes.

Regardless, let's raise a glass to Evangeline Walton, Elizabeth Lynn and anyone else who has been unjustly forgotten or never even allowed to start.


I wonder if the romance 'ghetto' has something to do with it.

Lots of professional writers who made their nest egg off of writing romances. And since the romance market doesn't always have the best quality control, people get that confused with mainstream.

I'm wondering also if the changes to the market will loosen things up. There's lots of fantasy work, some quite good, that's gotten the romance tag for marketing purposes. And then there are the big ones like Anne Rice's books, or Outlander which you can endlessly argue about.

I also wonder if its a mental focus issue. Are women more accustom to accept that the narrative characters are mostly men, so a male writer who 'defaults' to male isn't as hard to process as a female writer who 'defaults' to female?


The classic romance industry (e.g. Mills and Boon) doesn't so much have low quality control as the expectation of an undemanding product. In fact they have seem to have a well-defined checklist for desired content, with variations for contemporary, historical, medical, etc,

But you are correct. Because the guidelines don't emphasize multiple lead female characters (as opposed to supportive friends or love rivals), writing to them doesn't lead to stories containing innovative female voices.


The Sword of Shannara was huge when it came out as I understand it.

Personally I got caught up in David Eddings at the age of ten and was under his spell until I was fourteen; he also sold magnificently.


Re: 'Are women more accustom to accept that the narrative characters are mostly men, so a male writer who 'defaults' to male isn't as hard to process as a female writer who 'defaults' to female?'

I'm guessing that this is probably more than partially true for books based on a study of TV content. Some years back at an advertising conference a national public broadcaster funded study examining TV ad and editorial content found that more male than female audience members really needed the 'star' of the show to be male in order to feel comfortable watching/identifying with the show. So - to maximize ratings (therefore ad rev$) for TV fiction, this meant a male lead.

For books, I think part of the reason SF/fantasy has become stereotyped as 'boy's lit' traces back to the popular myth that boys/males prefer non-fiction to fiction. Therefore any fiction that boys do read automatically gets tagged as 'boys' lit'.

For a broader and more accurate perspective ... 2013 study:

Adult Reading Habits and Preferences in Relation to Gender Differences

Abstract: This article examines existing studies and theories about gender differences in the reading preferences of children, adolescents, and adults. A recent study of the reading preferences of a sample of adult men and women is then presented.

Then there's the blockbuster effect ... new-to-the-genre readers expect that genre to deliver more of whatever it was that first grabbed their interest. Most recently in fantasy it's Rowling's Harry Potter, and in SF it's Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. Neither of these authors was considered a 'mainstream/ traditional' SF/F author before their books took off. Further, how many card-carrying/established SF/F authors write SF stories similar in feel to HP or HG? None that I'm aware of. So, maybe current SF/F authors are the ones who are out of step with the reading public.


David Eddings' Belgariad, Brooks'The Sword of Shannara, and so on. Seriously, where have you been living that you didn't notice this stuff?


Enjoyed the Belgariad series - non-serious knightly stuff/fluff. Didn't like Shanara even though I read most of the series ... kept thinking/hoping 'maybe it gets better'. (Nope!)


Oh, Ghostbusters. The gender swapping of the characters is the most interesting thing I've heard; at least it shows that someone is thinking about how to make the film thirty years on from the original. If that ruins it for anyone I can only imagine they never saw Ghostbusters 2.

(Also as I said when I first heard: I'm threatened by the idea of a female Ghostbusters team. Mostly because I'm 100 feet tall and amde of marshmallow).


Terry Brooks was a definite clone of Tolkein before branching out into his own world. The Sword of Shannara is a painful retread.
David Eddings literally only went into fantasy because he saw how well Tolkein was selling and churned out his Belgariad for the money. To his benefit, he wrote reasonably entertaining Generic Fantasyland in an uncrowded market.

Stephen Donaldson as mentioned above has many influences from LotR, though he at least put a profound twist on them, as did Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn which is described by the author as his personal dialogue with Tolkein.

GG Kay's Fionavar Tapestry is VERY Tolkein influenced, but unlike most of the clones it is shaped by his work editing the Silmarillion so goes a lot further into the mythology and history instead of the Plot Token Quest narrative.

How many do you need? Seriously, just look at Del Rey and at least a third of their authors will be in the list.


My favourite part of the Ghostbusters retread is the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the receptionist purely for eye candy, and how much FUN he seems to be having playing the role.


It seems moderately unlikely to me that there hasn't be an earlier upwelling of the female voice. But history, as the aphorism tells us, is written by the victors and the victors are clearly male if it's ever happened before.

If this really is the first time, we're in uncharted territory of course. If it isn't I think there are a couple of reasons to hope it's going to be different.

One is a generational thing. This time, the change has been going on for long enough that there are really two generations that think women are equal and expect to hear a woman's voice at all levels. More and more of us expect a woman doctor, a woman lawyer and so on - all jobs that 30 years ago were predominantly male and 50 years ago were almost completely male. (The same is true, to a lesser extent of LGBT rights, disabled rights and so on, and that's possibly only 1 generation in the UK, and less settled in the US but the younger generation seem not to understand the problem the older generation have over there.)

The second is t'interwebs. (I know I'm Welsh, but I'm living in Yorkshire, I'm allowed t'contractions occasionally.) But us pesky upstart women don't meet in village halls and discuss making jam and sing Jerusalem any more. (That was my mother's generation really.) We talk to each other around the world, and when there's something that outrages one of us, it often (not always) outrages 100,000+ and gets talked about.

My memory for the right lyric is letting me down (I think it was Woody Guthrie) but there was something from the flower power anti-War movement about if enough people do the same thing it becomes a movement. If enough people protest wolf-whistling as sexual harassment it will change. If enough people protest the lack of women in board level positions it will change (it is, albeit slowly, from ~0% 10 years ago to 20% today). None of these things should be taken to say it's perfect, but it's indicating there's a widespread change at all kinds of levels going on.

I think it's probably here to stay. I certainly hope so.


Getting back to the original point though, I have to agree that between the early 80s and Feist/Donaldson/Eddings and the behemoth of Jordan to come, I remember an explosion of prolific female writers being available in my neck of the woods. Off the top of my head, I'd name JV Jones, Kurtz, MZB, McCaffrey, Hambly, Moon, Lackey, Tanya Huff, Kate Elliot, Louise Cooper, Rawn, Roberson, yourself.

And then over course of the 90s they all quietly dried up, though so did most of their male contemporaries who weren't mega sellers. Local authors still got some space, but many of the midlist just evaporated. Part of that was the severe decline in booksellers in australasia - Dymocks was perennially collapsing and books are expensive floorspace if they don't sell fast so more and more stores turned into identical copies of each other selling the same dozen authors and wondering why fantasy was in decline. I know I was relying heavily on my library and special orders in from the Australia and UK distributors.

Recalling your post some months back about the writing ghetto you were forced into, I wonder how many of the others ended up in the same trap, stifled by the gatekeepers of editors.

Certainly the Australasian SFF scene has always had a strong female component, and that hasn't really changed. Mind you, we didn't really look down on childrens and teen fiction authors either, and many of our greatest authors wrote all over the show. Victor Kelleher and Maurice Gee are both amazing.


It's his son Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant.

And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day ... Walkin' in, singin' a bar of "Alice's Restaurant" and walkin' out? Friends, They may think it's a MOVEMENT, and that's what it is: THE ALICE'S RESTAURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! ... and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.
With feelin'.

It's a classic.

David Eddings literally only went into fantasy because he saw how well Tolkein was selling and churned out his Belgariad for the money. To his benefit, he wrote reasonably entertaining Generic Fantasyland in an uncrowded market.

He writes great "bunch of friends making fun of each other" dialogue, though his greatest accomplishment as a writer is probably writing the same series twice and justifying it in-universe.


All those 70s/80s fantasy blockbuster series were what put me off reading stuff like that until GoT came along. I just did not like that cheated feeling when you get to the end of a book and... it's not the end. Not to mention bookshops stocking volumes 45 to 50 and nothing earlier.


I think my comment, looking at the "sentient caps lock" that is Donald Trump (thank you, Samantha Bee), is that Very Serious People have mouths and podiums, but they don't necessarily have brains, memories, or good research staff.

Listening to Very Serious People is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the stupidest things we do, especially the subset of we that's interested in the literary world. A bit of the nasty skepticism of the sciences needs to creep in there, so that pundits get called on their crap a bit more often. Then progress might stick a bit longer.

I, for one, can only hope that we'll manage to keep a multigendered, multiethnic fiction environment alive for a few decades. My pessimism comes in large part from what happened in the 1920s, and then after the 1920s. Or you can look at the arc race relations took in the decades after the Civil War, as Jim Crow bit down while northerners averted their eyes.

Or you can look at what's happening in the environmental movement, as every gain we make is continually attacked by people with more money and fewer ethics than we have.

Linear Progress toward a utopian goal is an unfortunate mythic trope shared by both Progressives and monied troglodytes. Despite reality being one damned thing happening after another and any institution being unsatisfactory and ephemeral (Buddha got that right), we still cling to the myth that we can climb up the ladder towards full equality without detailing most of our people to keep the trolls from chopping out the legs of the ladder. That, at least, we've got to stop. We've got too many glory hounds at the top of the ladder reaching for the next goal, and not enough people doing the frustrating work of defending progress already made, and that's how things always fall apart.


A friend shoved a Bujold book into my hand one day saying 'You've got to read this'! Have read her ever since and will be picking up her latest book this weekend. FYI - Cordelia is the central character in 'Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen'. So, if the gender-and-age reader/author myths are true, this should be a perfect storm of crappy book: female author writing SF; female SF protagonist; and, worst of all, both are late middle-aged with adult kids. Nope, despite the odds, I expect Bujold's story-telling talent to shine through.


In case you haven't come across it (I hadn't until recently) JV Jones is still writing, though apparently not getting her former shelfspace; Watcher Of The Dead was published in 2010.


eddings gets a bad press IMO - though the later books were retreads of the belgariad that series itself deserves a lot more credit than its latterly sub-YA tag.

Firstly it passes the Bechtel test with flying colours, it has high quality world building, decent magic system and manages to squeeze in realistic travel & camping and also a pretty good description/model of trading.

Pretty good for a reasonably standard quest story. Presumably some of that is due to Leigh being the (unacknowledged at that point) co-writer


So Game of Thrones definitely solves that problem I see.

IMO, the main tangible benefit to most of the 70s and 80s fantasy product was that it either stood relatively alone in a serial work or the series was finished relatively quickly because the true doorstoppers hadn't arrived yet. Most books were fairly quick reads.

Now the real it's-not-the-end lark turned up with Jordan in the mid 90s when the Wheel of Time turned from a trilogy to a sextet to oh god what do you mean it is still going on and proved that doorstoppers sold by weight as much as text. The late 90s Extruded Fantasy Product was particularly bad for not-finished-itis - Ian Irvine and Maggie Furey immediately spring to mind as incapable of wrapping up a series.

Oh, and Piers Anthony, with his must-be-40-books-by-now Xanth trilogy, which rapidly becomes homeopathically good no matter where you start reading. Though honestly he was trapped in a rut decades ago by his fans, because nothing else he writes sells.


"greatest accomplishment as a writer is probably writing the same series twice and justifying it in-universe."

Or just throw writerly scruples to the wind, and decide it's nice to get paid twice. Raymond Chandler wrote a bunch of Philip Marlowe short stories then stitched them all seamlessly together to make a blockbuster mystery novel. Easy to do when it's just one guy answering calls around the same city, can't think of how it could be done using an ensemble of characters without losing plot coherence.


Some years back at an advertising conference a national public broadcaster funded study examining TV ad and editorial content found that more male than female audience members really needed the 'star' of the show to be male in order to feel comfortable watching/identifying with the show. So - to maximize ratings (therefore ad rev$) for TV fiction, this meant a male lead.

This may explain something I've noticed in American TV series, which is that shows with "ensemble" casts always seem to have a well-defined set of archetypes:

  • the Mildly Eccentric Older Male (usually the lead)
  • the Woman in a Senior Position (she may be either the Older Male's sidekick, in which case this is a major part—generally the second lead—or the Older Male's boss, in which case it's a fairly small part)
  • the Good-Looking Younger Male
  • the Good-Looking Younger Female
  • the Person From An Ethnic Minority (usually black, sometimes Hispanic)

It seems too consistent to be coincidental. I'd wondered if it was consciously aimed at giving as wide an audience as possible somebody to identify with. I hadn't thought of ad revenue as a driver, but it makes perfect sense.


The Belgariad and Malloreon have similar plots, a certain amount of the same structure, and similar incidents happen along the way in both. In the Malloreon the main character is explicitly told that this is down to the same thing that's driving the plot and will be fixed if they win. I was mainly joking. :-)


Tolkien clones... Ghu, the Crap of Shannarra....

For one thing, no, you cannot just make it up as you go along. I believe it was Lord Dunsany who said that fantasy is much harder to write than other fiction, because you have to create the rules... and then you cannot EVER break them, or you've just cheated the reader, and their suspenders of disbelief will snap, painfully... and you'll lose them.

For another, if you're going to do a medieval society, based on history, you're stuck with the majority of women being kept out of much of the action. Go on, give me a non-midieval fantasy society, *not based on history, and I'll be happy to see what you do with sex roles.

On the other hand, you seem to have forgotten Lovecraft, and Howard, and their followers/clones.

On another hand, my whole life, sf&f have been genre-ized, and Real Litrachuh isn't THAT POPULAR STUFF! With the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, we got growth, and character development, and Literature moved away from that. It's like AI - whatever we manage to do, they'll find a way to deny it.

I really like the current movement to refer to Real Lit as lit-fic.

I really liked Josepha Sherman's first few novels, using Russian folk tales.

And, on the other, other hand (I think that's four, so be forewarned, since you're four armed), back in the 20th Century (is that ever weird to write), there were more-or-less 10 years cycles - 10 years of more sf, then 10 years of more fantasy being published. That broke about 15 years ago, and I blame it on the collapse of the manned space program. (You disagree? Tough, you're wrong, so there!)


"So Game of Thrones definitely solves that problem I see."

The problem was solved mainly because all volumes of a series are now available with online sales. I read GoT because it was all there "in one go". If I ever saw a book labelled "Part One" and there was no part 2 available I wouldn't touch it.


My favorite Piers Anthony book was Macroscope. Very interesting concept.


I love you guys. Note a few comments to respond to when I'm off the tablet and on the laptop, schlep out to wait hand and foot on equines, come back in and find my answers all answered for me.

Yes, I was thinking of Brooks, and also Eddings. Kay is a different animal, quite a bit higher up the Litrachoor tree, though his prose has a fingernails-on-blackboard effect on me. Likewise Donaldson (I kept yelling at the page: "THEY HAVE A CURE FOR LEPROSY NOW! NONE OF THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN!").

1: Hi, Colin! I write standalones, so a reader can jump in at any point. Each book is a self-contained unit albeit with connections to the others. It's generational saga rather than huge continuous story chopped into commercially viable sections.

There have been pushbacks from women, quite often in fact. One notable and seldom-acknowledged feminist trend is medieval courtly love. It's quite subversive in a patriarchal society controlled by an increasingly repressive and misogynistic religious establishment: the idea that a man should serve a woman in all ways, follow her orders at all times, and never, ever ask questions. Of course there was a fair element of satire, and the blowback was fierce. But there were beautiful moments.

One of my favorite medieval romances is extremely obscure--one of those "found in a dusty corner of the monastic library" discoveries. It's tenth-century German, it's mostly in Latin, and it's about a knight called Ruodlieb who wants to get it on with a lady, but the lady is not lying back and thinking of the Holy Roman Empire. If she is to be involved with him, she says, she wants a fully equal marriage and no double standard. Anything he gets, she also gets.

That is radical in light of what we think we know about the Middle Ages. But it tells me the wimmins were constantly and intransigently uppity, and the harder Church or state tried to keep them down, the harder they fought. After all, when the Church decided to shut off all female access to leadership roles, suddenly heretical sects popped up all over the place, with significant roles for women, and women leaders.

The blowback to that was the Inquisition, and later the waves of witch hysteria. But again and again, the women found ways to strike back.


"That's a sea change. Will it last? Now there's a question."

From a standpoint of economic determinism, which usually works okay except when it doesn't, you could analyze womens' increasing social/political/literary influence as a side effect of their greater control of the world's money now than in the past. Especially in light of Piketty's work showing how inherited wealth totally swamps earned wealth in the long run over generations, there was a tendency in the 20th century for women to outlive their spouses and end up controlling vast fortunes left by dead tycoons. I would suppose therefore they exercised their power via philanthropic contributions and even direct control over high level corporate jobs to ensure womens' voices were heard. Men still kick off earlier than women generally, but I think that in the upper income brackets that might not be as true as it once was due to high priced advances in medical care. So that might diminish the proportional growth of womens' iufluence somewhat, but I'd guess not by much since it's balanced with political gains won in the century since universal adult enfranchisement. My guess, it's a wash, more of the same to come in the near future. And as Martha Stewart would say, "that's a good thing."


I should add that those who diss romance might do some thinking about why they're doing so. The market is huge, the sales are enormous. But--it's a predominantly female genre.

Quality? Have you actually read any men's adventure fiction, old-fashioned skiffy such as the Lensman books, the ineffable Gor series, or any number of gaming-related, rattle-of-the-dice fantasy series?

Funny how, when it's diehard formula that appeals to males, it's OK, but when it's female-centric, oh ick.

(I will not get into my ranty mcrant about genre romance as indoctrination system for the patriarchy.)


I believe it was Lord Dunsany who said that fantasy is much harder to write than other fiction, because you have to create the rules... See also (again) U K le Guin "The language of the Night"


At the time it was being written MDT for leprosy weren't generally available or well understood. The drugs were available (from the 50's) but using them in combination to treat leprosy really didn't start until the 90's.


Oh yes, thank you. Obviously some brain cells still just about work.


I diss both Gor and Mills and Boon.

They're both awful and churned out to a simple formula to maximise writing speed and returns with minimal effort.

You can apply the classic romance tropes - put massive obstacles in the way of the lovers so they have to struggle for their happily every after for example - and write compelling stories. Jacqueline Carey would be a fantasy-romance example that I enjoyed, even when the barriers to the romance got really silly and even though the core romances stayed resolutely heterosexual (although kinky).

Mills and Boon, in essence once you've read one you've read them all, it's just swap out the hero's name and profession, swap out the heroine's name and crappy job. Gor has a different formula but once you've read three, you know them all - and if you're not a teenaged boy (which I never was) - you probably don't want to read that many of them.

I vaguely remember the Lensman books. But I read them when I was about 10 or 12 I think. I don't remember them as being that terrible - but my standards weren't necessarily that high!


For another, if you're going to do a medieval society, based on history, you're stuck with the majority of women being kept out of much of the action.

You're right of course. Yet if you ignore the women in, say, The Wars of the Roses, you end up with a lot of battles and people changing sides for not very clear reasons*. So the question is what is "the action"? Is it parties of men roaming the countryside murdering each other? Or is it men and women falling in love, and lust, and using their influence to raise up their families, binding them to each other with marriage and children? Is this a family squabble, or the violent falling out of different regional and noble factions?

How one wrote a fantasy version of this would depend on where one chose to focus. Nothing wrong with the battles and grim men plotting strategy story. But there's also room for the whirlwind romance and smiling women plotting their son's marriages story as well

  • As opposed to people getting married for not very clear reasons.

Some fun definitions from

bodice -noun 1. a usually fitted vest or wide, lace-up girdle worn by women over a dress or blouse, especially a cross-laced, sleeveless outer garment covering the waist and bust, common in peasant dress. 2. (obsolete) stays or a corset.

bodice ripper -noun informal 1. a modern Gothic novel or historical romance, usually in paperback format, featuring at least one passionate love scene, characteristically one in which the heroine vainly resists submitting to the villain or hero.

Also called bodice buster.


Thankfully, we also get imports like the newest iteration of Sherlock Holmes (BBC version) with modernized, stronger female characters at least in terms of being able to protect themselves physically and who are financially independent.

Can't tell whether moral strength/courage is more masculine or feminine these days. Or whether it's just on its way out, period. Not sure what the contemporary pop media/lit defining example of moral strength, ethics is either. Would be worth knowing as every generation adds its own spin on this.


Hi all! I'm in this StoryBundle, but I also write historical romance under the pen name Anthea Lawson. I don't want to get into long discussions about romance here (there are plenty of other places to do that, like the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site) but did want to respond to two things.

Re: Comment #41 - There are lots of heated discussions all over the internet about the term bodice ripper. Generally within the romance genre it's used to describe the historical romances from the 80s with rather lurid covers and seemingly dubious sexual politics (ie. rapey heroes). However, when you look at these books through the lens of sexual agency and women's sexuality, it makes a lot of sense in terms of women being "allowed" to claim and enjoy their own sexual experience. This is part of the spectrum that's led to strong female characters who enjoy sex unapologetically (for the most part - yes, there are still issues here and there). Mostly, though, calling romance books "bodice rippers" is an insult.

Also, comparing all romances to Mills & Boone is like saying all SF is pulpy Del Rey paperbacks. M&B/Harlequin are one part of the romance publishing industry, but play an increasingly smaller role. ALL large publishers (and merged large publishers) have romance imprints. Several smaller publishing houses survive on romance. It's a mighty, multifaceted genre.


LMB has been on my "buy everything she writes" list for years. I really enjoyed the new one (I bought the ARC from the Baen website) - and it's more of a perfect storm than you mentioned ;)


Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, iZombie, the Americans, the Good Wife, Supergirl, etc.: plenty of American (semi-Canadian) TV out there with realistic (or super-realistic) takes on strong female characters. On the other hand, most of them are fantasy. Still it's a start.

I would have put Person of Interest in there, except they killed off the most realistic female member of the ensemble.


I'm about a 1/3 of the way through and already giggling to myself how the Puppies are going to react to it.

Seriously good even by LMB's standards.


Gor! LOL! First time I encountered it was when I got one of the books out of the local library because I was into alternate world SF. A real WTF moment as I went through it. I was amazed that the local library stocked porn. Never read a Mills and Boon though.


Yes, alas poor Carter. And Shaw, too. I still hold out hope for a return (and more Shaw/Root banter) though...


"Out of Tolkien came the clones."

Don't forget the huge influence D&D had in kickstarting the market for Tolkien clones. Yes, nowadays it's a niche game for a small number of extremely nerdy players, but back in the late 70's and early 80's it was a huge fad -- TSR could not make copies of the game fast enough to satisfy demand -- and because it was a pastiche of all the fantasy tropes that had come before, including Tolkien, it did a lot to spread the Tolkien-derived memes that became the foundation of much extruded fantasy product.

"That's a sea change. Will it last? Now there's a question."

The days when it was possible for 50% of the educated population to never enter the workforce are over -- Capitalism's ever-expanding need for more and more brain-based workers has seen to that. So yes, I think, bar a collapse of civilization, that it will last.


Here in the States, we have two STEM graduates for every STEM job. I myself have four university degrees and a history of unemployment, and the college-educated, heavily indebted millennial barista is a common type. Capitalism's appetite for brain-based workers is apparently rather finite. Frankly, most of the jobs that require a diploma are looking not for a broad intellect or a specific set of technical skills but using education as a proxy variable to weed out the completely dysfunctional.


Beard argues that women's voices have been diminished and silenced for millennia.

And yet we keep hearing them, repeatedly, complaining that they are silenced - strange that.

I'll say the same thing I said last time this came up. It's female fantasy authors that have been making big coin in Hollywood over the last few years. Multiple YA franchises, set in fantasy scenarios, raking in the money. Often with female leads.

In addition, every female character in every film is a self-assured, capable individual who can knock out a 300lb thug with one punch and don't-need-no-man. In fact that's such a trope, for so long now, that I'll give my money to the next movie that has the helpless damsel in distress screaming her head off - it would be so novel and unusual.

Hopefully this is a stupidity that won't last. Not because of sexism, and all the usual SJW claptrap - but because it's boring and at least as ludicrous as Arnold flexing his muscles at any problem.

It's bad storytelling and unrealistic characters that will push women out of the spotlight again, not some imagined misogyny.


How one wrote a fantasy version of this would depend on where one chose to focus. Nothing wrong with the battles and grim men plotting strategy story. But there's also room for the whirlwind romance and smiling women plotting their son's marriages story as well.

Lately I've been playing the computer game Crusader Kings II. It's a strategy game, set in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. In it you play as a noble family, starting from (depending on the add-ons you have) 766 to 1337 (you can choose the start date and your family), and ending in 1453 (after which you can move the game to Europa Universalis and continue). In the game you have a single character at any point, who is "you". The next player character is the heir of the family. The game is quite complex and has no set goal except for the survival of the family.

Anyway, while the game can easily be seen as a military strategy game, as there are armies and combats and much of the time is spent in wars, the family and the marriages are very, very important. The game cannot continue without a heir in the dynasty, so it's important to ensure that there is somebody to continue if the current character dies.

I'm not that much of an expert, but in my first real game, where I started as the duke Gospatric of Lothian in 1066, I got very very happy when my current character's grandson was engaged to a princess of Scotland. This means I can get more certainty for the future and possibly a claim on Scotland's crown in the future.

I find it fun that this "war game" at first sight is more about how to make the "correct" marriages and not (only) how to wage war properly.


Yeah Look up Margaret Beaufort ....


"It's bad storytelling and unrealistic characters that will push women out of the spotlight again, not some imagined misogyny."

That is as incorrect as the assertion that the reason for the effects is misogyny among the readership. The paper that SFreader links to gives some indications of what the effect really are, and their causes.


It's bad storytelling and unrealistic characters that will push women out of the spotlight again, not some imagined misogyny.

Without wanting to get at anyone in particular, it's interesting that bad storytelling and unrealistic characters seem likely to push women from the spotlight, yet good-looking white guys with wisecracks, guns, fast cars and explosions (and not much else going on) aren't in any danger of going out of fashion.

I say this after watching Fast anf Furious 7 last night and enjoying the hell out of it.


"Unrealistic" is any part of a movie that touches on one of my areas of expertise. GI Jane slugging it out toe to toe with a male soldier 20kg heavier is nothing compared to "it's just a flesh wound" from an AK47. And don't even get me started on "It will take a couple of minutes to bypass the encryption".


To steal from a conversation about video games: Lara Croft choking a man a hundred pounds heavier than her with a bow = Unrealistic. Running at 30 mph, throwing a knife over a building, shooting someone 360 no-scope* in Call of Duty = Realistic. It's at least as much about expectations and genre conventions than as about realism.

  • Spin round and shoot without using the sights or something, not really my thing

"I should add that those who diss romance might do some thinking about why they're doing so."

Personal taste, pure and simple. Exactly the same deal as tomatoes (which I loathe). It matters not a jot to me what sort of other people write or read romance / grow or eat tomatoes; I, personally, find them unenjoyable to read/eat, and that's all about it.

But tomatoes have this weird property that with enough processing they turn into something that bears no resemblance to the original fruit apart from colour. Heinz tomato soup is quite edible; similarly I don't mind if there are bits of romance going on in the wings as minor elements. The Aragorn/Eowyn bit doesn't spoil LOTR for me (my opinions on the Arwen stuff are too complex to be relevant here); on the other hand "Romeo and Juliet" is purely about two blithering idiots doing stupid things all the way through, and does not interest me.

Gor, from everything I've ever heard anyone say about it right from the first occasion I ever heard it mentioned, is essentially porn, and therefore I have no desire to read that either.

Gaming-related stuff also gets a mark down from me because I don't play games, so it wouldn't make any sense to me.

The Lensman series, I think that's great. Also the Skylark series, at least up until the last half of the last book.

Quality, as far as I'm concerned, is only meaningfully defined in terms of how much I enjoy a book. The idea that it should be a function of the opinions of some kind of nebulous elite that I have no connection with, and that those opinions should inform my enjoyment of the book irrespective of my personal taste for its subject and style, has always seemed nonsensical to me, and I find it bizarre that supposedly intelligent people nevertheless hold to it.

Said elite, for instance, would claim that James Joyce is better than EE "Doc" Smith as an absolute, and that it is more "respectable" to like Joyce than to like Smith. They would disapprove of my personal opinion that "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is shit but the Lensman series is good. I don't care. I'm the one who's reading them, and what anyone else thinks is irrelevant.

As far as I can remember I have never cared whether a book is "supposed to be" a "boy's book" or a "girl's book", or whether the hero is male or female. The memory record on that is good as far back as age 5, at least. In the years following that I do remember some apprehension of other kids at school taking the piss over reading the "wrong" book, but in actuality that only ever happened once.

Nor have I ever cared whether the author is male or female. The various bits of propaganda going round that say "read more books by women" make no sense to me. As an indication of whether or not I will enjoy the book it has zero value. Often, indeed, I won't even know - if the author is named using initials and surname only (P. D. James), or if their first name is something weird (Richmal). If the convention was to identify authors by, say, the first 6 characters of the MD5 hash of their names rather than the name itself, it would serve me equally well.


"Women were told to shut up in Greece, in Rome, in the Western Middle Ages (and from what I know of history in general, this is by no means unique to Western Europe)."

Half truth.

In Western Christendom women could be actual rulers or warriors (Eleanor of Acquitain, Elizabeth I of England, Empress Maude, Isabella of Spain, Joan d'Arc).

They could also be honored for their learning and even later declared Doctors of the Church (Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard, Heloise)

Now eere these exceptions to the genral rule of cultural misogny?


But did women in any other culture rise as high?



You should enjoy the new Sherlock series then. Irene Adler is outsmarted by Holmes, then gets into trouble and is saved by Holmes. Plus she's a sex worker.* A great improvement over that pandering SJW Arthur Conan Doyle, amirite? (snark disengaged)

*Oh No! John Ringo.


But the women as rulers thing was tied in with high status and being of the correct descent. Normal everyday women had no such opportunities, except in some countries when their husband died and left them as widows they had a fair bit of independence.

Also, complaining about hearing about women all the time is a bit silly considering how much they have been ignored, belittled and generally treated as if they don't matter, over the last few thousand years.


I think you misunderstood the objection. I can't speak for Ian, but in my case it's not a desire to see women humiliated. That said, I do dislike the sort of "strong female protagonist" that, if you gave her a penis, would be instantly recognized for the boring, childish power fantasy that she is. If the tits and attitude are all she has going on, I'll pass.


It may not be what you intended, but when I read your comment, my first reaction was:

"I'm not interested in characters whose gender is irrelevant" - and I took from it the subtext of: "I want men to be real men, women to be real women"

Of course, it could be that you meant "I'm not interested in characters straight out of Wilbur Smith, all dominant and awsomeness personified".

So; data point on the "knee jerk reactions and how people can misinterpreta your prose" scale :)


Are the penis wielding fantasy figures recognized and judged in the same way? I realize that you specifically might, but I don't think our culture does. Do we hear endless rants about how unrealistic Sean Connery or Harrison Ford's cinematic exploits are? Demi Moore might not be capable of becoming a Navy SEAL, but some less photogenic woman might. (I recall that Moore's character is chosen because she does NOT look like an East German Olympian; it's a PR move.) Is it an issue for most viewers that relatively light weight, but handsome actors are regularly used to play bad asses in films?

(Also, I am taking a side swipe at some "progressive" cultural products which don't actually do what it says on the tin. I find it bizarre that people on the right and left find "Sherlock" progressive or SJW, respectively. It's like the present day equivalent of M.A.S.H. in that regard.)


Being a man and not of high status was also lacking in opportunities too, in those times. I still say the Monty Python historical movies (MP and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian) are pretty much the most accurate depiction of times past ever filmed.

Large Man with Dead Body: Who's that then? The Dead Collector: I dunno, must be a king. Large Man with Dead Body: Why? The Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.


But did women in any other culture rise as high?


Cleopatra. Hatshepsut. Wu Zetian. Amina. Mbande Nzinga. Yohl Ik'nal.


Anyone here see/remember the movie 'Alien'? Excellent example of how working around/dismissing the expected gender and age tropes resulted in one of the best SF films ever.

From Wikipedia, how Aliens was cast:

'In developing the story O'Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft.[44] He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic male ones with a note in the script explicitly stating "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women."

Film critic Roger Ebert notes that the actors in Alien were older than was typical in thriller films at the time, which helped make the characters more convincing:

“None of them were particularly young. Tom Skerritt, the captain, was 46, Hurt was 39 but looked older, Holm was 48, Harry Dean Stanton was 53, Yaphet Kotto was 42, and only Veronica Cartwright at 30 and Weaver at 29 were in the age range of the usual thriller cast. Many recent action pictures have improbably young actors cast as key roles or sidekicks, but by skewing older, Alien achieves a certain texture without even making a point of it: These are not adventurers but workers, hired by a company to return 20 million tons of ore to Earth.[18]”

For me, a good story is a good story because it connects with if not satisfies at least some fundamental needs in the reader/viewer in a realistic way. This means observing people (or self-reflection) as they are versus taking at face value what they say they are. Sorta like watching a primarily visual medium (TV) with the sound off ... it's good if you can still follow the story versus what you'd get watching Woody Allen's 'What's Up, Tiger Lily?'.


"Gor, from everything I've ever heard anyone say about it right from the first occasion I ever heard it mentioned, is essentially porn..."

Which reminds me. Is SF porn an under-developed sub-genre?


Yup, that's right, but is not the point of the discussion re. treatment of women, unless you wish to argue that men and women of the same social status had it equally good in those times.


That's wonderful. But you're aware of how far out of the middle of the bell-curve you are, right?


It's bad storytelling and unrealistic characters that will push women out of the spotlight again, not some imagined misogyny.

Bullshit -- and you're treading very close to a ban (for stomping on one of my bunions). Here's a hint: I have a bunch of professional peers who I hang out with and network with. A large number of them are female -- as you'll have noticed from the guest bloggers I have round here. I have observed career trajectories over the years since I gained traction in the field, for talented writers with bags of energy and capability, and the scary thing I've noticed is the way that the dice are weighted against them (even though the industry they're selling books to is predominantly female-run). It's not an outcome of overt in-your-face sexism and discrimination, but of product having to flow through a series of pipelines to achieve sales-to-customers, each of which imposes a certain impedance, and if each stages imposes its own back-pressure of, say, 5%, then after five stages they're down to about 70% of the amount coming out of the other end compared to a product that flows without resistance -- i.e. male-written fiction. Which is why I substantially out-earn a peer of mine who debuted the same year, has written about the same number of books, and is one Hugo up on me ... but who just happens to be female.

The systematic discrimination is real: the existence of J. K. Rowling doesn't disprove it any more than the existence of Barack Obama disproves the existence of anti-black racism in the USA.

And you just earned yourself a yellow card for talking out of your ass. (Hint: this is an SJW blog, owned by an SJW, and if you're not down with that, you are invited to take your bullshit elsewhere.)


We've discussed this before ... if we had blind auditions, we might get better books on the store shelves.

Has anyone ever quantified each of the steps along the publication journey in terms of where female authors are most to least likely be cut off? This type of info by publisher would interest me as a reader/consumer as well as someone who's interested in social policy.

Wondering whether agents might be best-placed to get blind auditions going as they're already the intermediaries, unless they represent the worst of the hurdles.

A question: for a new author, how much marketing of the author is done before a book is released? I'm guessing none (and that author-centered marketing is done only for established/popular authors) but would like to know for sure. If none, then it makes no sense whatsoever to make any decisions based on the author's demos ... just not rational/good business.


I'm not sure blind auditions are "fair," in the sense that, to be truly blind, women would have to write like men, and that's certainly not fair.

Still, I think there's a very important question here, about where the barriers are and whether anything can be done about them. My wild-assed guess is that it's less about how or what women choose to write, and rather more about editors, sales personnel, and buyers having untested biases about what they can sell, and conforming to those biases without having data to support them.

Rather than blind auditions, one thing that might help is if authors, as a solidarity strike, refuse to use their first names or to advertise their books with authors' photos, while reviewers refuse to use gendered names (Mr. Stross, Ms. Tarr, Charlie, Judith, etc.) in their reviews. How many are willing to stand in solidarity by abandoning their public identity and depending on their skill as storytellers?


I recall that the matter of sexism in orchestra auditions came up years ago, and resulted in some studies. This is about all I can find so far, makes interesting reading:

Of course it is easier to make musical audutions blind by the use of curtains.


editors, sales personnel, and buyers having untested biases about what they can sell, and conforming to those biases

Yes, that's pretty much it.

The trouble with your suggestion about refusing to use gendered name tags is that an author's name is their brand identity: to those of us who already have a career, ditching the brand would result in a gigantic pay cut due to starting out right at the bottom of the ladder again in terns of name recognition (by bookstore ordering computers if nothing else). A publisher could in theory enforce a policy of "initials, surname, only -- no first names" on all their authors, but then they'd be in competition with the rest of the industry. So this is pretty much a non-starter.


Blind auditions wouldn't help all that much, because very few authors can hide their gender at all well. The following shows the issue, and remember this is an area where humans significantly outperform computers.


Oh, I agree it's a non-starter. That's the problem when everybody, from the author to the reader, is partially and often involuntarily complicit in the problem.

Indeed, I'm willing to bet that every single person in the supply chain, from the author to the reader, would want to see a less discriminatory system. However, as you've just noted, I'm also quite sure that every single one of us feels that, independently, we're powerless to change the system, because some part of our interests would be harmed by the change, and we can't see why we should be the sacrificial goats to lead the charge.

Note that this problem isn't confined to sexism in literature. It happens in global warming, racism, our proclivity to war, and many other problems.


Interesting ... a word count approach confirming that 'boys like to talk about things' and 'girls like to talk about people' ... for now.

Noticed in a related article: Female blogger tried the gender genie on her professional (result=male) and personal blogs (result=female). So, the conclusion is that 'business/professional' writing has a male voice, and 'personal/biographical' writing has a female voice?

Considering that current business writing is mostly PowerPoint, I can see the advantage in developing a terse, non-personal style.


Am I? As far as the particular direction of my personal interests is concerned, that may well be true; but in terms of the problem under discussion, I'm not sure it is. It seems natural to me that the problem lies within the industry, as Charlie spelt out in the post immediately following yours, rather than the readership, who when all is said and done can only choose to read what the industry makes available.

I have seen men saying they refuse to read any books by women, but it was said by way of being a dick on purpose as an attempt at humour, rather than as a serious comment.

I certainly don't think I'm in a minority choosing books on the basis of whether their content appeals to me rather than on some external categorisation of them as books I "should" read or not. Sure, there are a few people who do it the other way; someone commented on here the other day that American university Eng Lit students don't enjoy reading the books the elite tell them are good, while the books they do enjoy reading are classed by the elite as bad, and so they end up not reading anything at all. But I would be amazed to find that an actual majority would allow others license to define their permitted enjoyment.


Unless .... you start out with a deliberately ungenderd name or a nom-de-plume. A trick used by many notable female authors, especially in the C19th IIRC. How well would that work, now?

Obviously won't work for an already-established author - though didn't J K Rowling try just that trick? Um


I'm also quite sure that every single one of us feels that, independently, we're powerless to change the system, because some part of our interests would be harmed by the change, and we can't see why we should be the sacrificial goats to lead the charge.

Speak for yourself: when I discovered my Romantic Times reviews skewed male, I took steps to address that and to ensure it was not an issue for my reviews at Publishers Weekly. Ditto for my personal review site.


Yes, as one would expect. Word count classifications are a really crude technique, and were already being superseded in the 1970s; the subtle semantic level that is usually called style is a much better discriminator, but beyond the state of the art to program. The other associations mentioned in the article you linked are well-known, too, and many of them are believed to be fundamental (i.e. not due to social conditioning).


I meant the Wilbur Smith one. In fact, I can't really see how you got your first reaction from my comment.


Good for you. Seriously. I'm glad you're both taking that step and talking about it.

Personally, I like to believe that I try to be unbiased as possible, but I've found, when I look at the names of the authors I'm reading, that my reading skews towards male authors at the moment. I'm not sure whether that's because there are a dearth of female authors tackling things like climate change (I honestly don't know, although there may well be), or whether there's something wrong in my current intellectual tastes, to the extent that they clash with my desire to be more inclusive.

Obviously won't work for an already-established author - though didn't J K Rowling try just that trick?

No, J K Rowling tried to publish a book defiantly unsuitable for 12 year olds. Remember, Harry Potter debuted at the same age as his target audience; there are a section of the population who think of her as a YA author.

Also why in the name of snacks do you think she's "J K" and not "Joanne" in the first place?


Attitudes can be shifted, a longitudinal study would be interesting and more revealing.


On the "there were a handful of powerful medieval women I've heard about" thing:

What tends to happen in culture after culture is that early on and at intervals as the years passed, women may hold equal or at least not totally suppressed status. But as time goes on, the power elites close ranks and the women get pushed out.

This happened in the medieval Church, which by the thirteenth century had shut down the female abbesses and other women in leadership roles, consolidated power in male hands, and clamped down on the laity generally. The pressure then went strongly out and sideways, and heretical sects cropped up all over the place, many with female leaders. This clampdown is one of the driving forces for the eventual collapse of Church power in Europe--though it took centuries and a few wars and devastating disasters (Black Death, anyone?) to really take hold.

In ancient Egypt, it's not insignificant that the last independent ruler was female. Nor was Hatshepsut the only female Pharaoh. There's work being done now in the very early periods--predynastic and before--which indicates that female rulers were not at all unusual, and that right to rule came down through the female line--something that continued up through the Middle Kingdom. Akhenaten and Nefertiti being one of the very late manifestations of this.

We're seeing evidence of female palace guards as well as female rulers. And stronger female roles up through the earlier dynasties--so much of what we think we know is filtered through the male bias of 19th and early 20th century scholarship, the assumption that if it's in armor it must be male, and if it's in power ditto.

That changed by the time of the heavily patriarchal Hyksos, but Egypt always respected the women's side, relative to other cultures in the region, and even in the late periods, there were plenty of female regents and an occasional king.

So, no, western Europe did not have a patent on women in power, and the cultural attitudes in general ("I am but a poor and foolish woman, forced by circumstance to play a role that defies my sex") were like clear about women's proper place in the food chain. Hatshepsut never apologized for being female. Eleanor and her ilk did so automatically. All the way up to Elizabeth I, who was badass, but who had to negotiate minefields of misogyny. She knew too well what she was doing by not marrying.


I thought she wrote a mystery using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, just to see what would happen.

The book got good reviews, but sales languished until she was outed as the author, at which point its sales soared. This, incidentally, is why reputation is more important than content, which is probably the most poisonous part of the whole system.


You did read my last clause, didn't you? Social conditioning is, in theory, changeable but, by 'fundamental' I was referring to the gender-dependencies of the human brain. This isn't exactly an unresearched area; I agree that more thorough research would be illuminating, but only if it were pursued without prejudice.


For one thing, no, you cannot just make it up as you go along. I believe it was Lord Dunsany who said that fantasy is much harder to write than other fiction, because you have to create the rules... and then you cannot EVER break them, or you've just cheated the reader, and their suspenders of disbelief will snap, painfully... and you'll lose them.

J.K.Rowling show the above to be very very false. Not only she made up "rules of magic" as she went alone, she was quite happy to forget in Book N something made up in Book N-1 (Time Turner, anyone?), yet fans ate it up.


What tends to happen in culture after culture is that early on and at intervals as the years passed, women may hold equal or at least not totally suppressed status. But as time goes on, the power elites close ranks and the women get pushed out.

Don't answer if it would be derailing, but why do the power elites close ranks and push the women out? And why, if women can hold equal or reasonably equal status fairly on, why doesn't that continue? Are the reasons the same in each culture? I'm probably importing too much early-21st-Century tolerance to think like the members of said elites, but why the @#!?☠$⚹★☆💥⛤ did they care what sex people were?


I would say all written porn is an underdeveloped genre, at least in English language.


Lately the trend has been to handwave that sort of thing. I think it's partly the influence of movies and videogames, where strong visuals let an artist get away with not making much sense. The trend toward trilogies and longer series is likely another part - it's hard enough to write one fantasy story with a coherent ruleset, but every story added gets much harder.


As an informal observation, I have found that "style" is (at a rough guess) about 80% reliable as an indicator in the context of someone posting on a forum under a non-indicative handle, as judged by them eventually posting something which makes it obvious. It seems to have much less of a correlation when it comes to books, as far as I've noticed; the subject matter is a far greater influence on style.

The original Gender Genie apparently no longer exists, but there is a "replacement" at which claims to be based on the original and in particular to use the same word lists and weightings. You can see these by viewing the page source and they look remarkably short to me.

Just for the crack, I tried it with various passages from my own writing (being readily to hand in a copy-and-paste-able form) and the results seem to depend on what the passage is about. Bloke trapped in a burning room trying to bust out of it = male. Two women discussing personal troubles = female. The same two discussing mathematics = male. Corporal reporting to captain (both male) about people encountered while on patrol = female. I tried a few more than this. All but the first two examples gave the caveat "weak result, maybe European".

In general it seems to be not so much doing "men write about things, women write about people", as "writing about things is by men, writing about people is by women" - at least with that bunch of samples. Narration of events or conversation about factual matters comes out male, whereas conversation concerned with interactions between people comes out female, and the strength of the result is related to how singlemindedly the passage sticks to one or the other of the two types of themes.


Now that I think about it, I have to qualify my previous post: Written porn for men is an underdeveloped genre. Written porn for women is a very developed genre, usually pseudonymed "romance" or "bodice ripper".


Well canonically most wizards are very stupid. As is obvious from the books, even if you ignore how Hermione more politely puts it: "A lot of the greatest wizards don't have an ounce of logic."

This covers a multitude of sins in the books, so it is consistent that the entire stock of Time Turners is in one place to be destroyed in Book N+2*

  • Order of the Phoenix

SF & F porn Err ... "OGLAF" anyone? With added humour, too!


Ooooh, deconstruction :)

That said, I do dislike the sort of "strong female protagonist" that, if you gave her a penis, would be instantly recognized for the boring, childish power fantasy that she is. If the tits and attitude are all she has going on, I'll pass.

Perhaps it's because you didn't mention male power fantasies in the first sentence, and chose belittling language in the second. Try this, see whether you think the tone changes.

That said, I do dislike the sort of "strong protagonist" that would be instantly recognized for the boring, childish power fantasy that they are. If that attitude is all they have going on, I'll pass, regardless of gender.

Spot the difference?


Yes - I did read your comment in full ... longitudinal also because of the interplay with the environment. Just like other organs, our brains might function/age differently depending on physical environments, and a comparison between sexes could provide a lot of information.

Gender and the brain seems to be a tricky topic area. Apart from studies looking at differences between men and women re: drug addiction, I haven't found much. So, if you know of any reliable overviews on this topic, please let me know. Thanks!

Someone like Matt Ridley should take this up ... really enjoyed Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. And his Wikipedia entry says he's married to a neuroscientist.


OGLAF is a rare exception, IMO.


Also, when I said "written porn", I meant "without illustrations".


Well, your version implies that the one-dimensional "strong female protagonist" characters I'm objecting to have a commonly-encountered male version. Personally, I haven't seen many of those in recent decades; they're out of fashion. Otherwise, I don't see much difference, but emotional subtleties aren't really my thing.


I would agree with that, but I was specifically talking about fiction. Almost all fiction has a significant component of human response to stress and (even more) human interaction, and it is there that the gender differences show up (both in real life and in the prose). Posts on (say) gardening are mostly gender-neutral and hard to classify, as is factual and semi-factual writing.


"Gender and the brain seems to be a tricky topic area."

Yes. The one thing that is clear is that all aspects are matters of two overlapping distributions, not categorical differences. And it is very difficult to distinguish innate differences from ones caused by early experiences. But also because it is a politico-religious minefield, though not as badly as race (look at what happened to Summers). Wikipedia contains references to typical papers, but unpicking them is not easy :-(


Yes, but what I found interesting about the behaviour of the algorithm was that, when fed with different passages from the same piece of fiction, it gave a different result depending on the subject matter of the passage. (Pseudo)Factual passages - including conversation about (pseudo)factual topics - tended to come out male, while passages concerning the interactions of people tended to come out female (regardless of whether the people interacting were male or female).

Also, all but two of the tests gave a result with a "weak, maybe European" caveat (there was a note in the blurb about the word lists being derived from American writing and less suited to analysis of "European" writing). This suggests to me - somewhat unscientifically, but it's the kind of behaviour that I associate with such things - that "people vs. things" is what it's fundamentally picking up on, but other aspects swamp the signal when they are present at higher amplitudes.


Much appreciated - thank you! This will take several readings as there's quite a lot to unpack.


What the algorithm does, of course, is demonstrate its own bias. That's the problem with gender(ed) studies.


The GenderGuesser is apparently "based" on a scientific paper from 2003.

I used quotes there because the original paper looked at samples from a very large range of British written texts, and only texts in the more formal writer to abstract reader style of books, newspaper articles, etc. It's apparently a standard resource used for language analysis.

The researchers pulled out texts at random until they had a sufficiently large quantity from both male and female authors and ran a machine learning algorithm over the two sets looking for any differences. They reported that word usage patterns could predict whether male or female with 80% probability.

The paper seemed well written and clear to me.

From the solid to the silly. The Genie Guesser is claiming to do the same thing, only with American texts rather than British, on small fragments, and extended to informal / conversational usage as well. I very much doubt that.


"why the @#!?☠$⚹★☆💥⛤ did they care what sex people were?"

Do the math, if one group can squeeze another group out of competition for resources, they'll almost invariably go for it. It's why Walmart doesn't shed a bitter tear when Kmart gets forced from a local trading area. The problem appears when large scale market forces like the invisible hand yada yada are applied to small scale interpersonal and inter-family relationships, they don't work any better on families than classical mechanics does on subatomic particles. Back during the formation of industrial society men might have gloated haha, we get all the money and you have to stay home, nyah nyah, but then women might just as well have replied, nice going, now you can work twice as long as you might have had to, knock yourselves out jackasses. It just introduces one more aspect of an adversary relationship to what's ideally a mutual support framework, and detracts from psychological or emotional fulfillment a couple could gain from each others' company. Now that women are entering the workforce in historically unprecedented numbers, however, bidding down men's wages by competing for jobs they were once excluded from, ironically and somewhat unexpectedly the real beneficiaries can be the workers themselves through improved home life once competitive interpersonal stress is relieved. Progress doesn't come free of costs, naturally, now instead of one guy making $20/hr 40 hours a week you've got a guy and his wife working 20 hours each for $15/hr., household income drops 10k$/yr but more importantly the guy now gets 20 hours extra time weekly to develop a life apart from work, and the same for his wife developing a life outside the domestic environment. Plus the employers are all dancing for joy with twice as big a labor pool to lord it over, and the sudden windfall of showing what used to be $10k in wages now turned to profits. Everybody's happy except the old time labor unions and labor political parties, who find their role diminished as protectors of wage rates that were once kept artificially high by the exclusion of half the potential work force. They'll just have to focus more on agitating for welfare benefits, public health care and social safety net protection in general. And the invisible hand doesn't go away either, gradually the households with 30k$/yr instead of $40k will max out their credit cards and reduce consumption, which on a national scale makes aggregate demand drop like a bag of cement. This reduces profits right back down again, and makes corporations less resistant to stimulative spending by government, which then taxes stagnant wealth from the top and spends it on public programs. The registers ring, revenues, hiring and wages increase, the downward spiral of deflation and depression are averted, and who do we have to thank? The top tenth of a percent now being forced to share their 20% of all wealth? No, it's the women who left home to get jobs. Thankyou ladies, and may I say it's about time. We couldn't have done it without you.


I read history very differently.

In relatively peaceful times, women sometimes come in to power, usually through inheritance (e.g. the Queen). Some of them last quite a while.

In chaotic times, the major method of succession is the coup. It's a high risk strategy; if you lose your entire family will be killed. I can't think of a single coup or civil war with a female leader, and this planet has seen a lot of civil wars. I suspect that women are disproportionately unlikely to think a slim chance at power is worth a better than even chance of extinction.

For those so inclined, explaining this tendency in terms of evolutionary biology and the relative positions of men and women on the reproductive strategy spectrum (K to r) is simple.


Well, Matilda (or Maud) springs immediately to mind. Pretty sure there are a few examples too from the Celtic period, which was more favourable to the idea of female rulers IIRC, although the records are more uncertain. I'm sure someone with a better memory than me will be able to cite examples from European, classical, and Eastern history which I'm sure I've encountered but can't remember.

It does seem to be the case that a more popular female strategy was to machinate behind the scenes to influence the outcome of succession struggles as opposed to taking part in them directly - eg. Margaret Beaufort, as Greg mentioned the other day. Arguably safer in her time, but plenty of it went on in ancient Rome too, and it wasn't at all safer then.

Being the one who actually has the special baby confers opportunities to exert power - with attendant risks, of course, as depicted by the owner of this blog ;)


Interesting. The paper certainly makes it highly understandable why I got the results I did.


Right. And the paper did attempt to control for topic/area, too - failing to do that is the classic mistake in this area.


I had managed to form the impression The Casual Vacancy was a Galbraith novel, not a Rowling. My apologies, all.


"Which is why I substantially out-earn a peer of mine who debuted the same year, has written about the same number of books, and is one Hugo up on me ... but who just happens to be female."

That doesn't add up, unless you are pointing the finger at readers.


Presumably Charlie sells more. Readership decisions, marketing, foreign sales… lots of possible reasons. He may get bigger percentage royalties too*.

*Maybe not — no idea if publishers have standard rates they stick to. But I know women who've discovered that their commissions are smaller than a man's on identical sales.


I can't think of a single coup or civil war with a female leader, and this planet has seen a lot of civil wars.

The response that springs to mind is "you didn't try very hard". Pigeon's mentioned the Empress Maud, and Greg's offered Isabella of France. Boudica is another British example, as is Margaret of Anjou, who ran the Lancaster side of the Wars of the Roses during the reign of Henry VI (who was pretty useless, frankly). Eleanor of Acquitaine was heavily involved in her sons' civil war against their father, and wound up under house arrest as a result. Margaret Beaufort seems to have played a very prominent role in Henry VII's rebellion against Richard III.

Further afield, Hatshepsut essentially managed a bloodless coup against her stepson, and Cleopatra VII (with the aid of Caesar) won a civil war against her brother. Most of the Ptolemaic queens of Egypt seem to have been fairly feisty.


Timely paper from UPenn re: connectome of healthy male and female brains.


'Our results suggest that behavioural sex differences, which indicate complementarity of males and females, are accompanied by related differences in brain structure across development. When using subnetworks that are defined over functional and behavioural domains, we observed increased structural connectivity related to the motor, sensory and executive function subnetworks in males. In females, subnetworks associated with social motivation, attention and memory tasks had higher connectivity. Males showed higher modularity compared to females, with females having higher inter-modular connectivity. Applying multivariate analysis, we showed an increasing separation between males and females in the course of development, not only in behavioural patterns but also in brain structure. We also showed that these behavioural and structural patterns correlate with each other, establishing a reliable link between brain and behaviour.'

What this might mean for authors/publishers ... checklist of male- and female-relevant tropes that a writer must hit for that work to sell to both segments.


Yes. And how likely a male/female writer is to be able to use those tropes, successfully!


Catherine the Great. Her husband was not mentally disabled, just a pillock. And the only person who could keep the little German princess down was her mother in law, who was also a reigning Tsarina.


Not to mention's Marc Anthony's second (third?) wife.


Not to mention's Marc Anthony's second (third?) wife.

I don't think either of Antony's first two wives (Fadia and Antonia) did anything of note. His third wife, Fulvia, was certainly prominent in fomenting conflict between Antony and Octavian (whom she loathed). Is that who you meant, or were you thinking of Cleopatra VII? His fourth/fifth wife (depending on whether you count Cleo), Octavia, was prominent in Roman politics but can't be said to have led a civil war or coup.


Catherine de Medici as the mother and pricipal advisor of 3 Kings of France during a period of civil war comes close to what we're talking about. We're out of the medieval period by then of course.

The war of the Castillian Succession between the two daughters of Henry IV (of Castille) bear looking at as well, although again we're probably into the Renaissance period depending on where you like to draw the historial line in Spain.


It's hard to make a strong argument that Cixi represented progressive influences in Chinese history, but the world would be a whole different planet today if she hadn't been the dragon lady she so truly was.

Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency, which she shared with Empress Dowager Ci'an. Cixi then consolidated control over the dynasty when she installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor at the death of the Tongzhi Emperor in 1875, contrary to the traditional rules of succession of the Qing dynasty that had ruled China since 1644. Although she refused to adopt Western models of government, she supported technological and military reforms and the Self-Strengthening Movement. Although she agreed with the Hundred Days' Reforms of 1898, Cixi rejected them as detrimental to dynastic power and placed the Guangxu Emperor under house arrest for supporting radical reformers, who had tried to assassinate her.


The war of the Castillian Succession between the two daughters of Henry IV (of Castille) bear looking at as well, although again we're probably into the Renaissance period depending on where you like to draw the historial line in Spain.

I don't think Jay specified mediaeval! I don't know how much of a "leader" Joanna was—I think her side of the war was prosecuted by Alfonso of Portugal—but Isabella certainly counts.


Re: Belgariad and The Sword of Shannara

For Belgariad I'm finding figures along the lines of 18 million individual books sold.

For The Sword of Shannara I'm finding figures along the lines of 10 million.

Tolkien meanwhile sits up at 300 million and even before the various movies came out recently appears to have been comfortably above the 100 million mark and from what I can gather sold pretty well right from the start and quite steadily for a long time.

I can't find numbers for the LOTR initial sales or sales in the first couple of years but they appear to have been healthy.

Some of the Tolkien clones appear to have had good opening weekends and in aggregate Tolkienesque has become an actual genre but none of the individual clones appear to have come within an order of magnitude of Tolkien's own sales unless you interpret it very loosely like only counting opening weekend sales.

Re:claim that in the 80's "fantasy was the province of the Female Fantasy Writer"

I couldn't find numbers for this. Is there any source with a breakdown of fantasy books sold by gender in the 80's? I'd been under the impression that it was still mostly controlled by males at that point.


No, Joanna was... well not exactly a pawn, and not a partner, but she seems to have been an active participant in the venture. To return to an earlier bit of the conversation she would make an interesting model for a character in a fantasy novel. Here's wikipedia on her father being under a curse:

Henry had previously been married to Blanche of Navarre. After thirteen years, that marriage was annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated. This was attributed to a curse, which only affected the king's relationship with his wife; a number of prostitutes from Segovia testified that they had noticed no impairment.


You misunderstand the figures for two reasons.

Firstly is the time period in question, with a much smaller market, second is the movie tie in factor.

18 million books sold in those days is a phenomenal number of copies. If you released the Belgariad today into the Harry Potter market, you'd probably get 100m+ easy. Twilight did.

Tolkein has the name recognition, and a movie deal - well over 50m copies of LotR were sold post 2001, which is on par with Game of Thrones since HBO.
But LotR is similar in some ways to Atlas Shrugged or A Brief History of Time - every family owned a copy, but not many actually read it. Dune is probably the SF equivalent.

As for dominated by males ... see my post back @18 - from the mid 80s to mid 90s, all of those authors were releasing between a handful and over a dozen books. I'd say the balance was fairly even (or more likely 60:40 to males rather than the 90:10 we'd had before and after).

There might be historical sales figures available, but we'd need someone with access to Nielsen Bookscan to look them up and pass on the numbers. They used to be available but it's all behind paywalls now.


Absolutely NOT about Tolkein. The Hobbit dates from 1937, and The Lord Of The Rings from 1954, and both sold moderately up until the hoo-hah started. Wikipedia claims the 1960s, but I am pretty certain that it didn't really impact on the public at large until the 1970s. Virtually no houses in the UK had it in 1970.


Sorry, that was more a reply to Murphy than you.


The Ballantine editions of LOTR and The Hobbit hit the US in the late 1960s. I still have my paperback copy of The Fellowship of the Ring with inscription from my brother: his Christmas gift, 1967.

That was the great wave of Tolkien in the US, through the Summer of Love in 1968 and on into the Seventies, until the Del Reys saw the gold in those hills and created the fantasy boom of the late 70s/early 80s. I read The Sword of Sha-Na-Na when it came out in 1977, which was also when the Silmarillion appeared.

Lived experience, baby.

As for FFW's in the Eighties, I lived it. I was told in so many words that as a "girl" I should write fantasy, and this became more and more of a thing through the 90s and into the new millennium. Girl = fantasy = romance.

I turned a space adventure series into "epic fantasy" by writing the Bronze Age of the world I'd created. Was never allowed to write the actual thing until I cut loose from publishers and their categories and wrote a space opera.

Numbers are not the point here. It's perceptions. Males were winning the dollar wars, but females were being pushed over and over into the genre that was deemed "appropriate" because soft, fluffy, comfy, easy. Four of us ganged up on Very Big-Name SF Writer in the pages of I forget which--Amazing, I think--to point for point rebut his declaration that "comfy-cozy medievalism" was destroying his muscular, manly genre.

That was ca. 1986. Ish. My first novel was 1985, and it was definitely pre-1990. All them uppity wimmins who make you nutty now are far from a new phenomenon. We keep uppiting--and the older we get, the fewer fucks we have to give.


I wonder if there is research on how female authors who write under male pseudonyms fare compared to other female authors. Or, in other words, how much of the inequality comes from the readers and how much from the publishers?


I read it in 1966. But was it a known name among people who did NOT normally read that sort of thing? because it was the expansion out of the cultish niche that made the sales explode.


That wouldn't help, unfortunately, because it's too confounded with other factors. I can think of an experiment that could be run by a group of authors, but it would still be quite a lot of effort to get any decent results, and it would have to be properly designed, managed and analysed. And, as OGH says, writing time is money for professional authors. But it could answer quite a lot of questions, including the one about the elephant in the room.


It was, er. 1967? 1968? that Tolkien finally gave in and sold the film rights, because he wasn't that well off at the time and as well as having something to live on himself he wanted to be able to leave a decent amount to his children. It was only after that that LOTR became really popular and he began raking it in, in the last few years of his life. IIRC it did so well that he could contemplate buying the film rights back again, although unfortunately he didn't actually do it.


>> although unfortunately he didn't actually do it.

Oh, wow, someone sure is bitter.


In thousands of years of history, a few outliers are going to show up. The most recent one you listed is hundreds of years ago, and coups just aren't that uncommon. Thailand, for example, has had two coups in the past decade, and that's just the one that came to mind with five seconds thought.

It looks to me like men are much more likely than women to fight their way to the top in situations where the fight is literal, not metaphorical. Whether this is oppression of the female sex by the patriarchy or women preferring to keep a useful patsy around in case things go south is a matter or interpretation. I'd guess it at about 30-70.

Males were winning the dollar wars, but females were being pushed over and over into the genre that was deemed "appropriate" because soft, fluffy, comfy, easy.

So in the late 1980s there was a fantasy boom, and a few male authors were making bucket loads of money.

Seeing this, agents and publishers started pressuring female authors to write fantasy and also make money.

Really not seeing a problem here. Would it have been better for women to have been excluded from a fast growing and profitable market?


We started off talking about medieval history so that's where I've centred my examples. For a more recent one how do you feel about Indira Gandhi's state of emergency?

I take your point that women aren't likely to seize power by force... perhaps because they have been traditionally excluded from military and leadership roles that would give them a power base to attack from. Similarly it is historically unusual for them to gain power by more peaceful methods, again because traditionally etc. etc.


Indira Gandhi's state of emergency was a defensive move. That's a lot less surprising from a woman, at least to me. Her rise to power came through an election, which pretty clearly marks it as a period of relative political stability (in unstable political times elections are largely meaningless, as recent Iraqi history demonstrates).


My edition says "Printed 1963 & 1965" ( '65 on RotK ) So there.


Bad example to choose too. Indira Ghandi was one of those "leaders" who should never, ever, have been allowed near power, because every single thing they touched turned to utter shit. The best recent British example I can think of is Anthony Eden. US? Pres Buchanan? [ Possibly Andrew Jackson ? ]


Please do read what someone posts before responding. The discussion was about when the Tolkein fad took off, and not when his relevant works were first printed (which was 1937/1954/1955, as I said). Pigeon has provided extra information on that.


Outliers... for the purposes of reasonable discussion we probably have to ignore them - phenomena like Rowling and Tolkien. Likewise , when I see 1984, Catch-22 or Wuthering Heights in my local bookchain's annual Top 100 list I discount them: They are 'best selling' because they are books in the high school curriculum that kids have to buy for each year's study. I do not believe that they are being bought and read for pleasure by the general reading populace in that sort of number.

Does it make more sense to look at what is happening once those sorts of things are taken out of the equation - e.g. looking at the mid-list?


Women weren't being encouraged to write fantasy for the money. They were being encouraged to write fantasy because it was lower status. During the late 80s all the "real" authors in SFF were writing SF again, and that was man's work...
For every Lord of the Rings you have a dozen Castle Roognas - lightweight fluff that sells reasonably well, and that was the perception of Fantasy.

If you look at the hugo awards for that decade, it's all SF until 1993. The WFA nominated predominantly men writing horror until 1990 and 1993 when men writing fantasy got a look back in.

Oh, and we all forgot Anne Rice, who dominated bestseller lists like the twilight of her day.

Charlie has covered this before, but on average the market breaks down as roughly 15-20% childrens, 40-45% non-fiction and 35-40% fiction. The fiction market then breaks down into roughly 20-25% general fiction, 30-35% romance, 10-15% crime and mystery, 10-12% SFF, and the rest being everything else, mostly thrillers and religious.

Our little 4% ghetto of the total market is a lot smaller than most readers think, the real money is made elsewhere.


If you look at the hugo awards for that decade, it's all SF until 1993

To be fair, it's not unreasonable for the World Science Fiction Society to tend to award its prizes to Science Fiction.

But yeah, the whole three legged stool that is SF/F/Horror is problematic. Were women 'encouraged into fantasy because it was lower status', or was it that fantasy became lower status because more women were to be found there? There's a long history of the latter happening in various professions.


Or neither. Association versus causality. Fantastical romances (including what we know of as science fiction) always were low status, but the hard SF subcategory was brought to the forefront by the rising technophiliac generation, dating from Verne, Wells etc., and it is not surprising that its proponents looked down on what we now call fantasy. As to the reason that there is a gender bias between those? Well, it merely reflects each gender's preferences and skills in society as a whole, which the psychological research indicates is at least partially inherent in human nature.


Anne Rice - her first book was a gem polished over years. The subsequent ones were mediocre pot boilers.

In addition, every female character in every film is a self-assured, capable individual who can knock out a 300lb thug with one punch and don't-need-no-man. In fact that's such a trope, for so long now, that I'll give my money to the next movie that has the helpless damsel in distress screaming her head off - it would be so novel and unusual.

There's certainly a class of person who sees even a modestly competent female character and immediately cries "Mary Sue!"

I find it more interesting (or perhaps, disappointing) that the beautiful, intelligent and omnicompetent ladies in question still aren't the heros.

Obligatory SMBC:


Fulvia. I was just too lazy to look it up at the time.


Actually Cleopatra did lead a civil war against her brother and held off a rebellion by her younger sister.


In 'action' stories, I also find it disappointing how often the heroines are simply stereotypical male (super)heroes[*] with tits, as well as how often the hero(ine)s make all other characters merely background. Of course, good writers do better, except when they are writing for the idiot market ....

[*] Which I find intensely boring, after the Nth time, and almost all variants of it were thrashed to death before 1930.


I think the point is there's these assumptions about genres that are laughable, but because of some mass media thing it gets stuck.

EG all horror is either Stephen King or Lovecraft. All anime is either pokemon or porn. All SF is star wars or star trek.

I think there's been this perception of romance to outsiders who don't read in the genre that it's full of professionals hacking out as much as they can. I think there is a market for that. But lots of it is weird gender standards.

We're what, now ~50 years from the Original Star Trek? DC Fontana used her initials to write star trek. (Let alone James Tiptree, Andre Norton, or even JK Rowling).

I think it's this weird market assumption that female name = romance, and male name = SFF. It's completely unfair, and stupid, but well, it's market stereotyping. Some folks think all romance is trashy escape novels (and some folks think the same about SFF).

But since romance is such a bigger market than SFF, its the rational choice to market your fantasy novel as a fantasy romance.


"It will take a couple of minutes to bypass the encryption"

That's actually not physically impossible so long as it is "bypass" and not "break". Sound maths combined with s crappy implementation is depressingly common when it comes to "secure" software.


In addition, every female character in every film is a self-assured, capable individual who can knock out a 300lb thug with one punch and don't-need-no-man. In fact that's such a trope, for so long now, that I'll give my money to the next movie that has the helpless damsel in distress screaming her head off - it would be so novel and unusual.

Rubbish. IMHO you're creating straw men to suit your prejudices, and it makes you sound like a Daily Mail columnist. Please, give us your examples of this "every female character in every film" you talk of.

Let's take the big money-spinners of the moment - "The Hunger Games"; a female leading character who ends up with PTSD (in book and film) and certainly doesn't fit your description. No toe-to-toe stuff, no "don't need a man" stuff. Other female characters are killed faster.

How about "Game of Thrones" - nope, they don't meet your description either, and the only female character who takes on a 300lb thug is a 250lb thug herself.


And it is a system with which you are already very familiar. Have you ever had to break into a system without such prior knowledge? I have, more than once, and I had the benefit of being able to run it in a debugging environment. Yes, there are systems which are so bad that they can be cracked from outside with negligible prior knowledge, but I haven't seen any used seriously in decades.


Why would they need to? You pay people who know what they are doing to find exploitable holes in the most common flavours of off the shelf crapware and package them up behind a nice friendly one button UI.

Actually trying to crack encryption is a mugs game, but the chances are that at least one of the parties is running an unpatched machine or still using an old version of openssl and you can just go and take the plaintext.

The technobabble is another issue, but probably just the protagonists trying to look smart. Script kiddies basically.


That counts as already being very familiar with the system because you have to bring a device with such tools for all likely system+configuration combinations already on it.

Furthermore, it assumes that (a) there is a computer-computer link you can plug into, and (b) that there is an order to attack those where none of the steps will trigger an alert or lockdown. I can assure you that the experts in this area don't regard such film exploits as plausible.


Now add - "...of an alien computer system" Independence Day?


Heck the one character that matches is actually a descendant of a legendary knight whose story revolves around her trying to break the mold in her society, and failing to do so. And interesting enough she's likely the cousin of the 300 pound she beats up, and she was better trained with better gear.

And she's just one of the women.

For the major female characters, we have

  • A queen whose a villain, yet when given PoV chapters is shown as a flawed paranoid woman who wasn't really loved by anyone but her twin. Her poisonous nature and ego eventually pushes even him away. (She's actually probably the type of character Judith would traditionally have an issue with, except she's an actual well rounded character who experiences growth and change).

  • A highborne lady full of many classical features as a mother. Some nice subversion as she's wonderful only to her bio kids, and whose advice is generally solid, but imperfect. She's got the same for her kids flaws as the villanious queen.

  • The discussed female knight. Whose attempts at breaking the mold go wrong, because this is a world where the knights may anoint themselves with oils and say holy vows, but are still into loot and plunder, and into playing political games.

  • 4+5. A tomboy and girly girl daughters of 2. The tomboy is trying to break the mold of her gender role, but her escaping from captivity has lead her on a route to be a sociopath killer. The girly girl whose captivity forced her to become much more clever and discover how to wield soft power within the context of the mold. (note the last season of GoT has diverged from the novels).

  • An exiled royal, whose character arc has taken her from dynastic chess piece to leader of her own army. She's seeking to melt the mold she was in, after being disillusioned with the politics of what's possible and marriages of state.

  • A fanatic priestess, whose dealing with prophesies she's trying to bring about, and finding her own certainty being mislead due to her own ego at interpreting dreams. She's got a bit more of the vamp sorceress bit in her, but giving her PoV chapters has smoothed that out as well. Especially since her beliefs are clearly right, just about the wrong person (people).

  • 162:

    Nice derail there.

    Perception was that fantasy was "fluffy" and "suitable for women." There were masses of women writing it, and being patronized for it.

    Similar to how romance is perceived now (and was then)--romance has always been strongly female and strongly denigrated.

    Men were making money on fantasy from Brooks on up, but in the 80s, fantasy was full of girl cooties. As the 90s came on, there was a shift, and by 2015 articles were declaring that "women never wrote fantasy before AND NOW THEY ARE!"

    The FFWs meanwhile were dropped by publishers, having received far less attention in reviews and lists than their male peers, or else were steered into romance or into another low-prestige genre, YA. There was one notable "androgyne" who excelled in sales: Robin Hobb, nee Megan Lindholm, wonderful writer with poor sales.

    Women were not steered to the money. They were steered to the fluffy. When fantasy escaped the fluffy on the backs of Jordan, Martin, and the rest of the manly ones, women were perceived as no longer writing it. I guess they were all writing romance or YA. Or UF, which is yet another girl-becootied genre, except when it makes buckets of money for Jim Butcher et al.


    Not intended as a derail.

    My impression from the sequence of events as described was that women were pushed into writing fantasy at the same time as the genre boomed and male fantasy writers were making lots of money.

    Not the case? Writing fantasy is/was not as well paid as science fiction, either in the 1980s, 1990s, or today?


    Women weren't being encouraged to write fantasy for the money. They were being encouraged to write fantasy because it was lower status.

    I don't know much about the publishing business, but I'm always skeptical when someone claims that business decisions weren't about the money. Business decisions are usually about the money.


    Men were making money on fantasy from Brooks on up, but in the 80s, fantasy was full of girl cooties. As the 90s came on, there was a shift, and by 2015 articles were declaring that "women never wrote fantasy before AND NOW THEY ARE!"

    In which case, surely the authors of these articles hadn't done their fact-checking properly, and should never have been employed. Knowing the history of your topic ought to be a requirement for any journalist writing as a critic. Ignorant journalists (which implies inept employment policies by the papers and other media) contributing to incorrect perceptions of fantasy?


    I'm always skeptical when someone claims that business decisions weren't about the money. Business decisions are usually about the money.

    Not true.

    Business decisions are supported by appeals to the money, but they're frequently (indeed, usually) irrational, based on gut judgment (a euphemism for prejudice) supported by confirmation bias, leading to a tendency to go with what seemed to have worked before, even when conditions change.


    To which, may I add (sometimes) ... One: A desire to do the other guy (or corporation) down, no matter what the cost Two: sheer willy-waving, to show you "can" &/or pure arrogance Three: assuming the world has not changed when it has. Examples - 1: The deadly rivalry between the SER & LCDR in Kent & SE London 1860-1899, spurred on by the bitter personal enmity of their chairmen, Edward Watkin & J S Forbes 2: The usual behaviour of Heathrow Airports Limited - presently to be seen in their screwing-over of rail passengers going to said airport 3: The downfall of Eastman Kodak


    "Similar to how romance is perceived now (and was then)--romance has always been strongly female and strongly denigrated."

    Well, strongly denigrated, as has SF and virtually all populist genres by the "literary elite". Not that I'd notice, but when was SF&F ever up for a Booker Prize or Nobel Prize for Literature?


    Try "The Handmaid's Tale".


    I would say that the decisions are about the money, but the theories of how to make money are full of superstition/conservatism/bias. That's pretty typical for humans making decisions when the cost of failure is high. Under those circumstances, we tend to stick with what has worked in the past and deviate very hesitantly.

    Of course, senior executives are often people who've been allowed to fail upward, which frequently brings out the behaviors Greg describes.


    Both you and the OGH seem to be assuming that the bias is irrational, but there is some pretty strong evidence that it isn't; that is also at the heart of the STEM employment issues. The point is that, if category A tends to do better than category B, and one needs to choose a single candidate from a pool with largely unknown potential, the best strategy is to choose a category A candidate. This results in (effective) discrimination against category B.

    There's a lot more that I could post about this issue, which is well known in game theory (a.k.a. statistics), but consider just the closing paragraph in this article:

    ''... Boys are still generally brought up to believe that being "girly" is something to be ashamed of. ... While such cultural attitudes exist, no amount of pointing fingers at fans, publishers, bookstores or whatever will change things much.''

    She points the fingers at the fathers, but there is a wealth of evidence that such prejudices are primarily passed on via the female line, at least in Western society. I also find it implausible that only 4% of the writers in the Guardian poll were female, unless there is also considerable bias in the sex of SF writers that female readers prefer. But she is dead right that pointing fingers won't help, which applies even more strongly if they are being pointed in the wrong direction.


    I don't know much about the publishing business, but I'm always skeptical when someone claims that business decisions weren't about the money. Business decisions are usually about the money.

    Business decisions are about the money and other rewards to the person making the decision. There's been a lot of work in behavioural economics about this.

    Working in the private sector, I saw a lot of decisions that were about advancing careers, and very few (if any) that were about maximizing the money to the company.

    The decisions were framed in terms of money, but the figures were carefully selected to support the decision that had already been made for other reasons. (Karen Ho has a lot more about this in Liquidated, if you want a good read.)

    When my kids were taking business classes, a lot of what they studied was how to make the figures 'prove' what they wanted them to. The idea that the numbers should come before the decision just wasn't on the table. (OK, in introductory courses it was there, but by upper years it seemed to have been basically dismissed.)


    Knowing the history of your topic ought to be a requirement for any journalist writing as a critic.

    Ideally, yes. But poor research and relying on 'personal impressions' are not a new phenomena.

    “In August was the Jackal born; The Rains fell in September; ‘Now such a fearful flood as this,’ Says he, ‘I can’t remember!’”

    I remember my father complaining in the 90s that younger researchers didn't read (and cite) any papers that weren't in the online databases, and so they were missing many of the foundation papers — and worse, simply accepting the assumptions that went into the standard models, without looking at how the models had been made.

    In terms of journalism, I'm noticing it more and more in my local paper: younger reporters blithely making claims about 'new' ideas/works/programs that have been around for decades. Some of this is down to increased pressure on reporters to produce copy (leading to simply rewording press releases) but I suspect a lot can be explained by younger people ignoring what their parents' generation did.


    Even simpler. Take a risk and fail - get punished. So choose the safe option. Very few corporations actually encourage risk taking despite what they might say. Conservatism pays off for management careers.


    Since the topic of romance came up, I would definitely recommend "Deadpool" as the best romantic comedy of the last 30 odd years. People who enjoy sex as opposed to have really "intense" feelings about it and people who are together because they genuinely seem compatible as opposed to being in love with the idea of love/romance itself. Hollywood obviously thought it was OK to break their formula this time because Deadpool is already such a weirdo, it's OK for him to have a normal(ish) sex life.


    When it wins awards, it's not considered 'genre'.

    It's a strange double standard for some of the most popular writers, who really are genre writers, but avoid the label.

    Some of its because they are deemed literary, (Margret Atwood writes SF, but it's consider 'Speculative Fiction'), some because of money (Anne Rice wrote Urban Fantasy, Michael Crichton wrote SF, Tom Clancy wrote SF).

    The Genre label has lots of baggage, and some of it's sexism, some of its political, some of it is old school gut feelings (AKA biases) that come from 30+ years ago when decision makers were kids.


    I came across an article this morning that illustrates how deep gender bias can run, even when there's an active attempt to prevent it:

    Female journalist defaulting to all-male source lists, over and over, and even getting worse as she tries to do better.


    My standards are too high. I was measuring the critics against Harold Hobson, the first man (as far as I know) to be knighted for theatre criticism. Here's a nice list of things critics should and should not do: "A Theatre Critic’s Manifesto" by Christopher Caggiano. It's all worth reading, but three points bear quoting here:

    • I will continually ask and answer Goethe’s three questions:
      1. What is the author trying to achieve? (i.e. intent)
      2. How successful was the attempt? (i.e. execution)
      3. Was it worth doing in the first place? (i.e. value)
    • I will put shows into historical, political, and artistic context, but only when necessary.
    • I will do my research before attending the show.

    When I taught Artificial Intelligence, I always tried to give my students an appreciation of the field's history and culture, so that they could not only answer Goethe’s first question — "what was the experimenter trying to achieve" — but also "why was the experimenter trying to achieve it?". Was that where the funding was, or the follow-on jobs might be? Was the experimenter trying to improve on a colleague's program that almost worked, or to discredit a paradigm they saw as dead? And so on. That kind of background knowledge ought to be a given for those practising any subject, whether scientific or artistic.


    Oh frabulous day! C. J. Cherryh for the win! She is the very model of the modern genre writer for me and now she's joined the pantheon.


    Kudos to commenters in recent discussions here for the book, game and film recommendations. I forget who specifically mentioned Liu Cixin's trilogy, Bioshock, or The Martian, but they're all five star media products I'd have missed, without the references. Like hitting three bells on a slot machine, those alone justify perusal of thousand entry threads. Add in all the extra mental stimulus, and following this blog is some of the most worthwhile time I spent over the winter so far. Pathetic, I know, but where else do you go to find this kind of stuff?


    That's where I was going with the idea of risk aversion when the consequences (for the decider) are high. An executive who buys books that meet the industry's idea of what's marketable but fails usually stays employed; it looks like bad luck that could happen to anyone. Buying books that seem tough to market means assuming the blame for any failures.

    This means that the biases shift based on market trends. There was a time when a book about a woman deciding whether to date a vampire or a werewolf would have been laughed off; Anne Rice, Laurell Hamilton, and Stephanie Meyer succeeded and now it's a genre.


    Doris Lessing got the 2007 Nobel for literature, she wrote some inspiring scifi tales. Read "The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire" (1983) if you missed it. Krugman named one of his cats after her, but I think maybe that's the one that died. Of course she died herself a few years ago, too.


    Since my own personal thoughts about the subject are a very far field away, a note that should be seen as inclusive towards the male readers:

    This week Stephen Fry and Peter Tatchell have fled / voiced qualms about a certain lack of tolerance in the air.

    Too many people have peed in the pool Stephen Fry blog, 15th Feb 2016

    The intolerant student Left has even turned on me – a lifelong civil rights campaigner P. Tatchell, 15h Feb 2016

    Now, if you can get beyond the craziness that is the national treasure Mr Fry using the 4chan Pool meme and P. Tatchell having a piece in the Torygraph, you might notice something.

    Yes, they're being held up by ostensibly right wing sources against the 'Twitter Maoists', but more importantly: they're now establishment accepted world views held by out gay men.

    Compare / Contrast the treatment that G. Greer got by newsnight of all sources (!!) and her only major sexual predilection is for youthful tanned Californian teen/twenties in tight trunks.


    You might imagine that one side has shifted forward, while the other is still being...


    PTerry got a Knighthood, for making the Planet laugh in fantasy.


    Correction Michael Crichton wrote some really appalling bad utter crap labelled "SF" ( No, you guessed, I'm not a fan. )


    Well, I may be mistaken, because I avoid the genres like the plague, but what I see indicates that the werewolf/vampire plus human female trope is mainly a reinvention of the rake-reforming pseudo-Regency bodice-rippers. There are almost certainly examples that are not that, of course.


    Oh, nonsense (about Greer, that is)! Her sexuality is FAR more complicated than that, and she deliberately courted controversy. I am not going to support the personal attacks on her, especially the unjustifiable ones in the media, but I can assure you that she often went out of her way to invite them (at least when interacting with her colleagues).


    Maybe its just because it was one of the first novels I read, but I'll defend Jurassic Park. The others are more meh. (although Westworld, the HBO show, looks good).


    Actually I'd defend Jurassic Park too, but because he sneaked some actually good stuff about chaos theory into the book under cover of dinosaurs!


    I was teasing; I'm well aware of the amount of newsprint spent on her affairs with Fellini or her 30,000 word desires for Amis.

    (The reference:The Boy)


    One example from European medieval history: Isabella herself, Castille. She literally seized the moment for getting the crown for herself, rather than one of the other three claimants, one of which was her husband, Ferdinand of Navarre. He hadn't been bothered to actually inhabit the same kingdom as his queen for the previous three years.

    When her half-brother died, Isabella acted. She had herself crowned, full pomp and panoply, and claimed the crown for herself. not for her husband and herself. The greatest political emblem that she had done so is the great sword of Castille was carried, unsheathed and point upright behind her in the procession to the coronation.

    If one digs just a little bit the number of very powerful, very successful women within various culture's power structures are astounding. Dig deeper than that, into the merchant and lower classes, there are just as many. One example, study the history of the Beguines in middle Europe. The Beguines, btw, still exist, though now they're more tightly connected to the Church than they were in the past.

    However, even Isabella, very aware of how much hostility there was in so many quarters to her rulership and power, from jealous family members, to opponents in the Church who disliked some of her humanist actions, to political opponents at home who wished to have a free rein in the New World to enslave the Native populations -- she was very careful to put Ferdinand's name first on documents, and often leave hers off -- even though she wrote the documents herself, formulated the policies and got them implemented -- all to keep Ferdinand's touchy masculine pride from being hurt.

    What happened to Isabella? As soon as she died, Ferdinand took over -- pushing out his own daughter who was heir to the crown, not he. How did he do that? By allying with certain of Isabella's religious opponents and having Juana declared mad. Nor was Juana trained to be a ruler in the way Isabella had been, as there had been a surfeit of heirs ahead of her. So Juana didn't have a character formed with the idea of rulership from childhood, as Isabella did.

    Ferdinanc destroyed within three years all the humanist progressive work Isabella had accommplished -- which were written out of the superficial official record.

    This is generally how it happens that women's accomplishments disappear and their power contracts: opponents join successfully once the powerful female figure leaves the stage, her heir is declared mad, and Bob the Uncle takes over again -- and like the statues of previous rulers are disfigured and destroyed, so is the reputation of the powerful female ruler -- and she's disappeared as far as possible from the record.


    P.S. As you all are aware, when Isabella took the throne of Castile, the Iberian peninsula was anything but peaceful. A Turkish invasion via Egypt and the African Mediterranean shore into southern Moorish Spain was overtly, imminently threatened by the Ottoman emperor. Isabella organized the armies, their supply and all the rest over and over again in her relentless campaign to rid Spain of the Muslim. At times she was even in the field, though she did not lead armies. To give Ferdinand his credit, he was quite good at that. Isabella had succeeded at very much that was considered a man's field, and she was lauded and loved for her success. But she realized that actually leading the army in battle, despite her reverence for Joan d'Arc, would have been a step too far for her male people.


    Her daughter Katherine was responsible for the only real foreign policy/military victory of Henry VIII's reign.


    I think we're getting different answers because we're asking different questions. You seem to be asking why women get pushed out of power. To me that seems obvious - politics is power struggles wall-to-wall, and most reigns don't last that long.

    To me, it seems better to ask why women so rarely push themselves into power. The best answer I have for that is that seizing power is extremely risky, and women tend to be more risk averse than men. You may have a better answer.

    I agree that male leaders often have important female deputies, especially in systems where the distinction between the government and the ruler's family is fuzzy. Of course, female leaders usually have important male deputies as well.


    It's not just in journalism. Most biologists haven't read Darwin's Origin of Species, and most biologists who spend much time on biogeography haven't read Wallace's Malay Archipelago. When they do (and I got to them in grad school), they're typically shocked by how familiar and modern parts of the text look. They deal with the same issues researchers have been working on ever since those books were first written.

    Hell, Svante Arrhenius' 1908 description (in a popular science book) of how CO2 would cause climate change predicted about the same range of increased temperatures as we're predicting now, which is why I get so pointlessly annoyed when people accuse scientists of not being forthcoming about the threat, and not trying to describe the consequences.

    Now I'm reading about water politics in the western US, and I'm shocked, shocked at how familiar those problems from the 1880s look...


    Points to you for demonstrating the point of the OP.

    Women did not "push into" power in large numbers because of millennia of powerful cultural pressure against them. Which makes it all the more remarkable that so many have managed to do so despite the height, breadth, depth, and persistence of the barriers they have to break down.

    And here we are again with "women just aren't as strong, women don't push as hard, women don't this, women don't that." Leavened with "women too busy birthing babies" and "women don't really want it anyway."

    We're starting to get a sense of how very early cultures really worked (versus how modern scholars have interpreted the data through the lens of their own cultural conditioning). We may eventually figure out where it all started. In the meantime, at this end of the timeline, the pressure against those millennia of pressure is slowly getting stronger. With much pushback--the heavy gendering of clothes and toys versus even ten years ago, the sexualization of little girls and the hypermasculinization of little boys, and on and on. That's the core culture doubling down.

    Even why the US has a Black male President before a woman President--that goes straight back to the nation's Founders, who rated a Black man at 60% of a white one, but no woman of any color had any voting rights at all. It took almost 150 years and major push to rectify that. It's quite interesting to read the arguments against allowing women to, gasp, actually participate in the political process.

    Womwn don't push? I'm reminded of the infamous comment made by Ann Richards about Junior Bush: Born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

    Women have to start a lot farther back and fight a lot harder to even get to third base. It's hardly surprising that so few have managed to get that far--or that so many of those who have have been erased, diminished, or otherwise invalidated.


    Speaking only for myself, the reason I chose Obama over Clinton in 2008 was their votes on the Iraq War. If I, as a stupid little grad student in the Midwest, could correctly figure out that the WMD case was a stitch-up (and I was far from alone in marching then), it boggled the mind that a professional politician who's smarter and better informed than I am (Clinton) would be taken in.

    There's also the mess with the Keystone XL Pipeline, which started under her watch.

    I suspect that Iraq's still dogging her. It's hard to forget a trillion dollar screwup, no matter how much good she's done before and since. For what it's worth, I think she'd make a better leader than Sanders or Trump, when it comes to dealing with crises and getting ordinary things through Congress. When it comes to doing the right thing even though it's unpopular, I'm struggling to trust her, because I think she'll weigh the politics before she looks at the real consequences of her actions. And that is quite frustrating.


    If it makes you feel better, my department head used Origin as a text for senior biology…


    You have made a lot of good points, but you are tapping into some of the uglier sides of feminist history here.

    Suffragettes did argue they were necessary to block the effect of the black man's vote. (And look what assumption they have to make here to make that argument work.) There was also a time when mainstream feminism pushed eugenics.

    And quite simply, black men did not possess .60 of a vote; they augmented the effect of certain white men's votes. Also, it was three fifths of "all other persons," not three fifths of all other men. So black women were not excluded from this privilege.


    And white women and children and free persons of color, but not members of the First Nations, possessed full "voting rights" by your logic, since they were also tallied in the census and did not have the .6 qualifier.

    To be fair, I do think people are more likely to vote for a man, black or white, for President. It's just not necessary to make this kind of spurious historical argument. The answer is in the present: for better or worse, male military leaders make people feel "safer" and that seems to be what the average voter really wants. I think it's worse, but then I am hardly even Joe Q(uimby) Democrat anymore, much less John R Independent or Jill Leans Republican.


    As a Brit, I find that highly amusing. Who is Commander-in-Chief of UK Armed Forces? Hint: It is not, & never has been, the Prime Minister.


    --the heavy gendering of clothes and toys versus even ten years ago,

    There is one type of heavy gendering on the men's side which must have been there for a long long time, and shows no sign of going away. Despite what I'd assume to be greater comfort, at least in summer, how many men do you ever see wearing skirts?


    Outside Scotland (and Scottish-themed events)?


    True. I see the occasional Scot wearing national dress at black-tie dinners in Oxford. But note that even those Scots do not wear their kilts at other times when they'd be more comfortable. (Black-tie dinners being held in the evening, when it's likely to be cold, are the least sensible time. Noon shopping expeditions in the middle of both June and London, on the other hand, are when you really do want ventilation.)


    Actually, a proper kilt is heavy and warm, good for cool weather.* I don't wear mine nearly enough. As for tropical climes, there are plenty of cultures where men wear sarongs and similar garments.

    *an old Scottish saying that I made up: If you can't stand cold knees you got no business wearin' a kilt. (I'll spare everyone the Scots.)


    Actually, a proper kilt is good for any weather, and different weights are available. I know someone who wears out a military weight one in roughly 3 years of use, living in a 14/15th century castle in Scotland with no central heating. I've worn mine up a hill in summer to see how it goes, and knew someone who wore a plaid for a few walks as well.


    Indeed. My grandfather gave me his heavyweight kilt thirty years ago, after he outgrew it; apparently he'd done some deal with an HLI Quartermaster wayyy back when he was a war-service RN type. It must be seventy years old now, and still going strong. These are heavy enough that the pleated material at the back swings as you walk.

    I bought a mediumweight kilt for our wedding - the wool is quite smooth, and you can dance in it without too much risk of "showing off"... and I've been given a couple of lightweight kilts as team uniform at sporting events; I can vouch that wearing them at >30C and >90% humidity is practical, but I wouldn't dance in them.

    Your knees don't actually get cold in a heavy kilt, you've got knee-length heavy hose and eight yards of heavy wool around your thighs - that's my experience, having spent time in a Pipe Band performing at various locations, cold and windy, in various military/heavywight uniform kilts. A bigger problem was during summer, overheating in a damn great woollen high-collared tunic, while wrapped in a full-length plaid.


    If you're arguing that women who want to get to the very pinnacle of society have it hard, you're right. Almost none do, although I note that neither do 99.99999% or so of men.

    If you're arguing that the reason for this lies in our political structures, I greatly doubt it. The pattern recurs too often across too many years and too many mutually antagonistic and mutually unknown societies. Political structures aren't that robust.

    If you're just complaining that The Man is keeping you down, that's just what The Man does. If you want to be The Woman, you have to keep everyone else down. Judging from the historical turnover rate among Men, it's harder than it looks.

    P.S. I very much suspect that we will get a very clear lesson in how primitive societies worked within a century or so, mostly because the fossil fuel inputs that permit our present way of life are unsustainable.


    Well, my 'old saying' was intended as a joke, it was orignally a response to comments I've gotten when wearing my kilt in snowy weather. I've also worn it in hot, humid weather at highland games in Florida, so yes you can wear it whenever you feel like.


    Holy crap Jay, your comments read like they came straight out of the MRA handbook. (You too Ian S) It's just a different take on the whiny 'why don't women work in mining' - I note they never mention civil construction which is actually a lot harder to work in as it's project based so the sociopaths fly under the radar for longer as they move along much quicker. And for the record I have worked as a female in both mining and civil engineering since 1998.

    I've seen what happens to the resumes of women wanting to work in that field. Best case scenario, they get picked up to improve the stats to show good corporate governance which the shareholders voted had to be in. (But no support and active aggression including physical after they get there) After all 'we hired a woman and they didn't work out' is SUCH a handy excuse.

    Second case scenario, overqualified woman gets sent 'to the office' so she can be considered as an admin chick (much lower wages). One of the few things keeping me sane is that the empirical evidence is coming in that shows eg. truck drivers, plant operators, other labour force (and if you think truck driving isn't physical, try driving through a site where you have to sledgehammer your way through a wall cos it's still being built)

    Do you have zero respect for women at all? You have a legend (ie Judith Tarr) in her field saying there is a problem and you (as a random internet dude) just try and talk over the top of her and pretend it's all about women not trying hard enough. And not wanting it enough.

    And talk about history being rewritten. I notice Olympe de Gouges who wrote the 'Declaration of the rights of Women and female citizens' (and who was beheaded as an enemy of the state during the French revolution) (also the Wikipedia article on this is shit, she wasn't beheaded as she was a Girondist, it was because she was pushing for equal rights) has disappeared pretty much from history.

    Yep. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man - Brilliant stuff remembered forever. Apply it to women (who actually DID physically fight in the French revolution) and a small bunch of historians and maybe some feminists know who she is. Plus ca change.


    Sorry Judith also and your previous ones. Thanks for the OP. Got a bit side tracked. oops.


    Previous post should have read 'Sorry thanks Judith etc. Coffee and keyboards. Don't play well.


    The woman you're attempting to defend from my heinous oppression breeds Lipizzan horses. If what she's experiencing is disenfranchisement, I'll take some myself please.

    I'm not kidding about the horses. Here they are on her website:


    To which can I add ELEVENTY!!

    Yeah the statistics are beginning to worry some employers in London, but as to what to do about it, well, they could start by PROMOTING SOME OF THE GOOD WOMEN THEY ALREADY HAVE... Except that now they appear to be devising extra hoops for said women to jump through, "to show they're good enough", cough & delaying promotions for as long as possible & .... ( Guess how I know all this? )


    Comedy Gold Jay.

    Judith Tarr does not need defending by the likes of me - she is more than capable of defending herself. Her OP resonated with me to the extent the I went back through my bookcases to reacquaint myself with those 80s female authors and also the ones in the 90s who also appear to have never existed during the 'drought of women in SF/F'. And then through all the other decades on my shelves. (I have over 5k in my house not counting my digital versions)

    I have no idea what a Lipizzan horse is (not being a horsey person myself) but I will assume from your comment that they are expensive and it costs a lot of money to raise them. So fucking what! By this twisted logic, we could assume that men have never been oppressed because: Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Warren Buffett etc etc etc. And I am more than happy to put ridiculous amounts of money on the table if you want to get into a pissing competition of rich males vs rich females.

    The other thing you may have missed as the substance of my comment went whooshing over your head is that you (and again, you are coming across as maybe having spent too much time on a voice for men or other such sites)seem to think that your individual comments add up to 'heinous oppression' and that anyone will care. It isn't heinous oppression. It's just what most women I know have been putting up with since forever.

    Bottom line: Even if Judith Tarr was a trillionaire and was raising a cloned dinosaur, a unicorn or had the cure for cancer in her hands - It would still not detract from the substance of her OP. She was commenting on a social condition and you chose to play the woman not the ball.

    And people say women are emotional.


    Thanks also to anonemouse and GT


    You seem to have missed Tarr's comment (#87) that started this whole subthread. She started a discussion of why women are so rare at the pinnacle of the rulership class. For all my failings, I respected her enough to take the discussion seriously. Contempt, on the other hand, I usually express with a comment like "that's interesting".


    "She started a discussion of why women are so rare at the pinnacle of the rulership class."

    Perhaps because women are less inclined to suicidal monomania coupled with psychopathy.


    Well congratulations Jay. If you were looking for your MRA merit badge, I'd be fairly confident if you headed over to AVFM you'd get it. Well temporarily cos they seem to eat their own a lot of the time.

    I HAD hoped you might respond with some creativity (given the horse thing - and btw THANKS HEAPS - your comment raising horses and uppity women immediately reminded me of Patti Smith who I have left on the bottom of my music pile for far too long - problem solved!)

    So lets look at that boring MRA styled crap you wrote and I will womansplain it for you.

    Jay: 'You seem to have missed Tarr's comment (#87) that started this whole subthread.'

    Feymary: Are you shitting me? It was the funniest comment on the whole thread and I spilled my coffee cup over my keyboard when I saw her comments on Elizabeth 1. Yes I know she pulled you up on some stuff but that wasn't actually the stuff I laughed my arse over. Also nice attempt to undermine me and her. (but of course because she raises horses she is an extremely stupid woman and so am I for supporting her cos random dude on the internet says it's true)

    Jay: She started a discussion of why women are so rare at the pinnacle of the rulership class.

    Feymary: No she didn't - she just pointed out your comments proved the point of her OP. Nice attempt at gaslighting though. Nice attempt at victim blaming there. If you were in the same room and she said that would you have hit her in the face and used the same excuse when the cops came? This is just the lighter version of saying she asked for it. Kind of like when rape victims are excoriated for wearing skirts that are too short. It's just a matter of degrees.

    Jay: For all my failings, I respected her enough to take the discussion seriously.

    Feymary: Bullshit. You tried to derail onto the fact she raises horses. That's not respect or engagement. That's just you having a whinge.

    Jay: Contempt, on the other hand, I usually express with a comment like "that's interesting".

    Feymary: Well that's just gaslighting and moving the goalposts. Not buying it for a nanosecond or even 1/10th of one. Women hear this kind of bullshit all the time and it gets really old really quick. Who died and made you the new God of how the English language works (bearing in mind you are up against an actual published author???)

    You expressed a mountain of contempt against Ms Tarr above. You keep trying to centre this whole conversation back on you and how you feel about it. If you have facts and figures to support your views I would be happy to look at them but you don't even try to sealion on that point. Apparently, your opinion is enough that us uppity women should just shut up (thanks for that)

    Hey, if you want to stand up and be proud and out as an MRA advocate, that is your call. Good luck with.

    Sincere question here? Do you advocate this shit because you are desperate to preserve the status quo (and it's a rational response to having to compete on a level playing field when you have grown up not having to do that.)

    Or are you one of those dudes who already feels like they're not surviving even with a head start so you are kicking in harder so you don't ever have to compete fairly?



    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Judith Tarr published on February 12, 2016 9:00 AM.

    Please ignore those damned writer memes (and don't repost them) was the previous entry in this blog.

    Introducing new guest blogger: V.E. Schwab is the next entry in this blog.

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