This post was not only prompted by a remarkably stupid NY Times review of the "Game of Thrones" TV series, in which the reviewer thought the story was a polemic against global warming, claimed that women don't like fantasy, and further claimed that women do love sex, so the sex was gratuitously crammed in to please them.

It was also prompted by curious fact that while many of the most successful, and by successful I mean bestselling, writers of YA fantasy and sf are women writing under clearly female names, and most of the bestselling writers of urban fantasy are women writing under female names, most of the bestselling writers of epic/high fantasy are men or women writing under male or ambiguous names.

To quickly define terms, by "urban fantasy" I mean "Set in contemporary world much like ours, but in which magic and/or magical creatures exist. Typically involves romance, fighting evil, and/or detecting." By "epic fantasy," I mean "Set in non-contemporary world which is not just our world plus magic or an alternate history of our world, big sprawling stories, typically a series of fat volumes, typically involves a huge cast of characters, war, battles, monarchies, and politics. Typically set in a vaguely medieval period."

I have some questions for you all.

1. Am I correct that the bestselling writers of epic fantasy are typically male or writing under possibly-male names? I'm thinking of Robin Hobb (woman writing under possibly-male name), Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Brian Sanderson, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, etc.

I am under the impression that the female authors writing under clearly female names, like Kate Elliott, Katherine Kerr, are midlist or at least not hugely bestselling authors.

Anomalies: Jacqueline Carey - bestselling, I think, but clearly female. Gender of names may not be clear to readers: Sherwood Smith, Mercedes Lackey. I think Sherwood is considered a midlist writer, while Lackey is maybe in between midlist and bestseller?

2. Is epic fantasy really read more by men than by women? In general, women read far more than men do. Is epic fantasy an exception? I would love to see some actual figures here, because I honestly have no idea.

3. Do male or male-seeming epic fantasy authors get a bigger marketing push from the publishers? Are readers more willing to buy their books? Why is this different from urban fantasy and YA fantasy? (Maybe the latter are considered "less serious," because of the association with romance and teenagers, and so the proper province of women?)

(I don't even ask, "Is epic fantasy by women reviewed less?" because we already know that answer. All fiction by women is reviewed less than fiction by men. One of many statistical breakdowns to that effect here.)

ETA: A brief reading list of non-bestselling female writers of epic fantasy:

Sherwood Smith: Overview: Yo, epic fantasy authors. I'm real happy for you, and I'mma let you finish (uh, sorry, George R. R. Martin, I swear that was not a dig) but Sherwood Smith has already written one of the best epic fantasies of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Buy on Amazon: Inda

Kate Elliott: Cold Magic (The Spiritwalker Trilogy)

Mary Gentle: A Secret History: The Book Of Ash, #1

Michelle Sagara: Cast in Shadow (The Chronicles of Elantra, Book 1)

P. C. Hodgell: The God Stalker Chronicles

Judith Tarr: The Hound and the Falcon: The Isle of Glass, The Golden Horn, and The Hounds of God

Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane: The Winterlands Series (Book One) (Note: This book stands on its own, and is a perfect work of art on its own. For the love of God, AVOID THE SEQUELS.)

Laurie Marks: Fire Logic (Fire Logic)

N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy)

Katherine Kerr: Daggerspell (Deverry Series, Book One)
The other day I had a conversation which reminded me of the enormous differences between the world I live in, and the world most men I know do. In particular, there are several statements which I have heard frequently and which I never want to hear again.

Before I explain why I hate these statements so much and why people shouldn’t make them, please note this disclaimer: I am only speaking for myself. In particular, women who are of color, not American, visibly disabled, old, poor, transgender, lesbian, and/or fall into many other categories to which I do not belong, may have vastly different experiences. I do not intend to speak for them (or for all women who do match my demographics, for that matter.) Please do not take this post to apply or be intended to apply to all women everywhere.

That being said, I do know that some women do feel similarly. So if you’re a man, please consider the possibility that some other women might not want to hear this stuff either.

Second disclaimer: If you, my male reader, agree with what I’m saying and furthermore do your part to educate other men you know, then you are not the men I’m writing about. Carry on with your good work.

Obnoxious statement # 1: “Some guy harassed you/threatened you/cat-called you/insulted you/otherwise menaced you? Why didn’t you just punch him/slap him/kick him in the balls/use your martial arts to beat the hell out of him?”

Why this is obnoxious: There’s so much that’s wrong and insulting and clueless about this question that I have to break it up to respond to it.

“Some guy harassed you/threatened you/cat-called you/insulted you/otherwise menaced you?"

There’s nothing wrong with this part. I’m pulling it out to note that what follows displays the speaker’s failure to take those events seriously. Men often do not realize that threatening and harassing women may be the prelude to stalking, raping, murdering, or otherwise seriously harming women. They perceive it as a minor, harmless annoyance. Women, who tend to know that men who beat, rape, or murder women usually start with a smaller act of aggression, often perceive such events as potentially life-threatening.

Men often find it hard or even impossible to believe that women’s perception of danger is neither cowardly nor irrational. If I could wave a magic wand and change one perception, that would be it, because all else flows from that.

"Why didn’t you…" = “In a situation which was stressful, unexpected, and dangerous, you did something wrong. (I would have done better.) You were a coward. (I would have been a bad-ass hero.) You failed. (I would have succeeded.)”

It is inappropriate, presumptuous, and rude to second-guess the actions of a person in a potentially dangerous situation for which you were not present. They did what they had to do, and you can’t know that you would have done better.

Men who say “Why didn’t you…?” imply that the situation was not dangerous in the first place, and the woman is silly and irrational and cowardly and overreacting. I suggest you not assume that. Is it really so hard to believe that the woman who trusts you enough to tell you about a painful incident is a rational person with accurate perceptions?

“Why didn’t you just punch him/slap him/kick him in the balls/use your martial arts to beat the hell out of him?”

Let me tell you why!

If you believe that the situation was not potentially dangerous, this is merely a stupid suggestion to commit the crime of assault and battery, for which there may not have been legal provocation and for which the woman could acquire a criminal record, at the very least.

If you do believe that the situation was potentially dangerous, then you’re making the much stupider suggestion to escalate a state of potential violence into actual violence – to start a chain of events which could end with the woman getting arrested, seriously injured, or killed. (Possibly by the police. It happens. Especially if she’s a woman of color.)

To start at the beginning, it is unwise to slap or otherwise deliver a blow meant as an insult or punishment. All that does is instantly escalate the confrontation. (I’m not saying that I’ve never done this. I have. It’s still not a good idea.) Now you’re in a fight and the other guy, undamaged by your first blow, is likely to strike back. Possibly with a previously-concealed weapon.

To avoid that situation, you’d have to make your first blow be the one that ends the fight. But it’s quite difficult to take someone out with one blow. (I’m not counting knock-downs, which are comparatively easy but which don’t inherently end the confrontation.) If people have their adrenaline going or have fought before, a hard punch to the face – hard enough to split their lip or give them a black eye or bloody nose – won’t stop them. I could go on in a geeky manner about harder punches and blows to other parts of the body, but the short version is that you can hit people pretty hard without stopping them, and if you do stop them, you’ve probably really hurt them.

I have seen a number of real fights and also a number of sparring accidents, and I have only once seen someone literally dropped to the ground with one blow and be unable to get up afterward. It was a sparring accident, and it was a kick that cracked three ribs. I also know of a couple real-life instances in which a martial artist did drop a real-life attacker with a single blow. In all of those, the attacker had broken bones or died. It’s very hard to take someone out with the first strike without seriously harming them.

(I know that there are many martial arts which specialize in non-violent techniques, that boxers specialize in knock-outs, that you may merely mean to distract the attacker for long enough to run, etc. Rather than get into a long martial arts geek-out, I will merely say that I haven’t studied one of those styles, and that if you’re speaking to a woman who has, she still had good reasons for not wanting to start a fight.)

If the woman is fighting for her life, then seriously harming her opponent is the idea. But does she really want to enter a fight for her life if she could avoid it? I wouldn’t. In any case, it’s way out of line to criticize someone for not deliberately risking her life.

I don’t mean that women shouldn’t physically defend themselves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there’s something enormously wrong with telling a woman who successfully managed a confrontation without resorting to violence that she should have escalated it and so risked her own life.

ObNote: Obviously, none of this applies if the woman senses that avoiding violence is not an option, or the man strikes first or is clearly about to. Please don’t take this to mean that I think the onus for avoiding violence is or should be on the woman! But in the scenario I’m discussing, the woman did walk away without it getting to that point. I am only trying to explain why her actions in that particular case shouldn’t be criticized or nitpicked.

Obnoxious statement # 2 (upon hearing of the many precautions women take to try to avoid being harassed, raped, or murdered, or even upon hearing what thoughts go through women’s minds as they evaluate the level of danger of a situation): “You shouldn’t let fear rule your life.”

Why this is obnoxious: It’s calling her a neurotic, delusional coward. It’s implying that she’s irrational and wrong, that there really isn’t any danger, and that taking precautions or evaluating the danger of a situation means she’s terrified. The next guy who tells me this is going to hear it from me when I see him buckling his seatbelt.

Obnoxious statement # 3: “Why didn’t you call the cops?”

Why this is obnoxious: Victim-blaming and second-guessing. If she didn’t call the cops, she probably had a good reason not to. Maybe the guy was already gone. Maybe the guy was a pillar of the community and untouchable. Maybe the woman would lose her job. Maybe she had good reason to not trust the cops to take action, or not to blame her. (Especially if she’s poor, of color, not a citizen of the country, or otherwise not in a privileged group.) Maybe the last time she called the cops, they laughed at her.

If you genuinely want to know the answer, try framing it so it’s less accusatory, like, “Is calling the police an option, or would that not be a good idea?”

Obnoxious statement # 4: "Some people are wolves, and some are sheep."

Why this is obnoxious: Way to dehumanize both men and women, justify the violence of men against women by suggesting that men have to commit violence against women in order to survive, and brag about being a predator while calling women prey! It's biologically and metaphorically inaccurate, creepy, sexist, and gross.

Obnoxious statement # 5: “So, you’re saying that if you wanted to, you could fight off an attacker? Could you take me?”

Why this is obnoxious: The first question isn’t horrible by itself, though it becomes insulting if it’s said in a dubious or mocking tone. It’s also a little clueless, since the answer depends on so many unknown factors.

The second question is extremely creepy given the first question. It’s also like asking, “Have you stopped picking pockets?” There’s no good answer. If you equivocate, you look like a poseur. If you say yes, you’ve just accepted a challenge. Don’t ask this question, to women or men.

The best response I’ve found, by the way, is to shine a spotlight on the obnoxiousness of the question by replying, “Why do you ask? Were you planning to do something to me?”

Since these sorts of posts tend to attract commenters who don’t know me, a few notes and ground rules for discussion:

1. Though trolls and blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted, I don’t heavily moderate. If I don’t reply to a comment, that does not mean I agree with it.

2. The following topics will be considered blatantly off-topic: false accusations by women, and the rape of men by women.

Also, please don’t reference the sexist (or egalitarian) practices of countries that you haven’t ever lived in. Stick to topics that you actually know something about.

3. Victim-blaming will get a thread frozen but not deleted, so the stupidity will be stopped but remain visible for all eternity. This includes blaming me for getting asked these questions. I do not live in a snow globe, and I do not choose my male relatives, co-workers, classmates, partners of friends, gym members, guests at other people’s parties, neighbors, etc.
If you've missed the huge conversation/imbroglio on LJ right now, [ profile] rydra_wong has an excellent compilation of links.

In that but also in similar conversations and imbroglios in the past, online, offline, and in print, I have noticed several catch-phrases which invariably offend. Sometimes they seem to be used with that intent. I also realize that people may hear a phrase and repeat it without realizing its connotations and that it will make people go supernova.

For instance, I did not realize until this election cycle that the word "articulate," which sounds complimentary, has a history of being used as a descriptor for African-American men to imply, among other insulting things, that it's shocking and amazing that they can articulate words at all. So it's not a good word to describe how impressed you are with Barack Obama's excellent speech-making skills.

Personally, I would rather know about that sort of thing than not know. If I am going to insult someone, I want to do it on purpose rather than accidentally. So here are some specific phrases which, once you've finished reading this post, you will know are insulting, whether always or in certain contexts.

Note: I am not attempting to speak for people of color (POC), but only for myself, a white woman. Please feel free to let me know if there's anything in here you'd like to correct because, seriously? I'd rather know than continue in ignorance.

Also, please note that I did not originate any of this. Everything I'm pointing out was pointed out to me or in my presence, generally by people of color. The only reason I'm not citing is because I've heard it so many times, including offline, that I can't recall specific instances.

Cut for probable lack of interest by POC in topics they probably already know extremely well, such as the obnoxiousness of the invocation of purple people and damned writers )
I left a message on the voice mail of the YMCA's executive director, throwing about the phrases "gender discrimination," "totally unacceptable," and "valuable piece of equipment which needs to be made available to ALL members regardless of gender."

I got a call back! He claimed (very unconvincingly) that they had always planned to move the pull-up machine to where it would be accessible to all. He says they require a special crew to take it apart and reassemble it, so it can't be done till January. But come January, it will be in the basement (with other machines) rather than the men's locker room.

The whole affair strikes me as emblematic of how a lot of discrimination, not limited to gender, works: unless you're already in the priveleged group, you have no way of knowing what sort of perks that group is getting, and so don't even have the knowledge that they're getting stuff that your group isn't.

Conversely, sympathetic members of the priveleged group may not know either, and so would have no reason to tip you off: Adrian's first assumption was that I was not aware that the other assisted pull-up machine was in the women's locker room! And he only mentioned it to me at all because we'd had a whole conversation about how I had to use his because my gym didn't have one.

Salary inequities often function exactly like that, abetted by the social taboo against revealing one's salary.

ETA: Mistressing the pull-up
I found out yesterday that my YMCA does have an assisted pull-up machine... in the men's locker room! I would never have known if Adrian, whom I had gotten in on a visitor's pass, hadn't tipped me off!

I complained. They said it was the only place in the entire building where they had room for it. I suggested the roof (where the rest of the big machines are, and where there is definitely room.) They said no one uses it anyway. I pointed out that in the men's locker room, none of the female members have any opportunity to use it, and would not even know that it exists. They repeated that there is no room anywhere else. I asked them what their procedure was for filing a gender-discrimination complaint.

They said I needed to talk to the supervisor, who wouldn't be back till Tuesday. GRRRRR. I plan to keep complaining up through the ranks until they move the damn machine to where BOTH GENDERS can use it.
It seems that yet again, a major sf anthology is coming out in which all but one contributor is male, and all are white.

Arguments over market forces, subconscious and unconscious racism and sexism, affirmative action, the personal guilt of any given person vs the collective guilt of society, and the vagaries of fate as they pertain to putting together an anthology may be made elsewhere; there are lots of venues! If you wish to argue those issues, here or here would be good places.

What I would like to do here is a little different. I am not sure whether some editors really are unaware of the existence of many female writers and/or writers of color, or whether they merely claim to be. But let's make it easy for them, shall we?

Here is a convenient post listing current authors of gender and/or color who have been known to write sf and/or fantasy and/or magic realism short stories. Editors, should be uncertain whom to solicit to get fantastic stories that are not by white guys (sorry, white guys!), just check the post and comments here, and then feed the names into google. I am certain that many of the authors will be pleased to hear from you.

One could also email the list to any editors whom one happens to know are putting together anthologies. Just a thought.

Off the top of my head: Sherman Alexie, Steven Barnes, Elizabeth Bear, Holly Black, Lois McMaster Bujold, Emma Bull, Pat Cadigan, Suzy McKee Charnas, C. J. Cherryh, Ted Chiang, Susannah Clarke, Pamela Dean, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Diane Duane, Tananarive Due, Doris Egan, Jewelle Gomez, Barbara Hambly, Nalo Hopkinson, Nicola Griffith, Diana Wynne Jones, Nancy Kress, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Yoon Ha Lee, Ursula K. LeGuin, Megan Lindholm, Kelly Link, Marjorie Liu, Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Moon, Haruki Murakami, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Tamora Pierce, Nisi Shawl, janni Lee Simner, Vandana Singh, Sherwood Smith, Megan Whalen Turner, Jo Walton, Leslie What, Connie Willis, Jane Yolen, Banana Yoshimoto.

(Yeah, yeah, good luck getting Yoshimoto or Murakami, but what a coup if you did!)

Please check my list before you suggest more, so we don't overlap.
rachelmanija: (Little but fierce)
( Apr. 24th, 2008 01:16 pm)
As a result of [ profile] theferrett's smarmy, sexist, creepy description and advocacy of what was apparently, to at least some of the female participants, a fun experiment in sexuality and touch, I have read multiple comments and heard in person from a LOT of female fans that they will never or never again attend a convention, lest they be sexually harassed or subject to an atmosphere of misogynist hostility.

I like conventions: certain conventions, in moderation. It makes me sad to see that a venue that is already male-dominated will now become even more male-dominated, when I would like to see more women get involved and so make it more friendly to women.

But I also can't dismiss their concerns, or promise them that nothing will happen. For one thing, people are already posting to the Dragon Con comm under the assumption that now that public button-enabled sexual harrassment has been described and advocated, it will happen as a matter of course. For another, sexual harassment has occurred at cons way before this particular incident.

Conventions are not more sexist than the outside world, but neither are they less so. The world is incredibly sexist. All women are subject to misogynist taunts and harassment, and frequently have no recourse. This goes double if they are a member of any other oppressed or disrespected group: old women, young girls, women of color, lesbians, transsexuals, disabled women, immigrants, sex workers, the poor.

On a side note, it baffles me how fandom and cons seem quite happy to discriminate on every basis except that of personality. If you are a member of any generally-oppressed group, that's your problem. But if you are a fucking asshole, people will come out of the woodwork to say stuff like, "Oh, that's just Harlan/the ferrett being Harlan/the ferrett, don't mind him."

That is not OK.

I have probably experienced less random harassment than many women, and yet I have had my breasts groped twice (once before I hit puberty), been threatened with rape, murder, and sexual mutilation (in high school; the teacher I reported it to wouldn't even let me change my seat to get away the boy who was threatening me), a hostile atmosphere at work, public cat-calls, and men exposing themselves to me.

This is why many women feel that for groping strangers to be truly consensual, it must be kept in a labeled room and not in a public place. There's enough of that going on outside and non-consensually already.

However, I am not going to stop going to cons, nor am I going to stop wearing corsets and other attire which scumbags like [ profile] theferrett think mean I won't mind being asked for a grope. I assure you, I will mind. Also, I will call security and the police. However, for the benefit of the socially impaired, that does not mean that you may not look. Looking is fine. Compliments are fine. Polite requests for photographs are fine. Touching and requests for sexual access are not fine.

But I hope that what will come out of this is a movement to make cons more safe and fun for everyone except those who want to grope freely in public spaces, sorry guys; room parties only. One is that we press conventions and the venues that host them to create and enforce sexual harassment policies. The other is the brilliant plan invented by [ profile] vito_excalibur, Back Up: Women Defending Women. Yes, there is a gentleman's auxiliary.

Project Back Up

I intend to wear my Back Up badge to A-Kon and every other con I go to in the future. If you need assistance of any kind, I pledge to help you out as you wish and to the best of my ability.
So, apparently a scumbag named [ profile] theferrett and some other people at a con had an impromptu grope party. I gather they enjoyed it. Which is fine, though I do think they should have gotten a room. But now he is attempting to make his gropefest into a con meme, in which women wear color-coded button to indicate whether they may asked to be groped or not. Context and outrage all over my f-list, including [ profile] coffeeandink, [ profile] the_red_shoes, [ profile] kate_nepveu, etc.

I have no objection to clearly labeled private grope parties. But I enjoy cons, and tempting as the prospect is to get the chance to try out my martial arts in a real-life situation, I think the desire of women to not enter a public grope zone pre-empts my desire to kick the asses of sexual harassers, or [ profile] theferrett's desire to cop a lot of feels.

Therefore, if I hear that this button scheme is likely to go on at any con I would like to attend, I will contact the management for the hotel in which it takes place, inform them of it, point out the danger of sexual harassment lawsuits, and further inform them that if they do not get the con organizers to ban the buttons from public spaces at the con, and someone gropes me, I will sue the hotel and call the police. And that I will also encourage anyone else who is groped without their consent to sue the hotel and call the police.

I suggest that those of us who feel that grope parties be limited to spaces where all participants want to participate do the same.

ETA: If this is truly consensual, why all the objection to keeping it in a labeled room? Why, after the first spontaneous incident, must it continue to be public? What is so valuable about public groping that justifies profoundly offending and frightening people who don't want to be exposed to it?

Note: If you're thinking of comaparing this to "why must gay people kiss in public?" here's my answer: 1. I am not offended by gay people doing anything that wouldn't offend me if straight people did it. 2. There is a value in bringing down homophobia which justifies offending people who are offended by gay people doing stuff that wouldn't offend them if straight people did it. The whole argument is a non-starter, so don't even bother.
I am looking for recommendations for feminist TV shows with lots of action and women kicking ass, preferably physically. Preferably fantasy or sf. Please read the qualifications carefully before making your recommendations:

1. TV shows. Not movies. I don't care whether they're live action or animation.

2. Please do not rec the following shows [SUBJECT TO BEING ADDED TO], because I have already seen them: Veronica Mars, Buffy, Firefly, X-Files, Spooks/MI-5, Ultraviolet, Avatar, Dr. Who, Alias, Xena, La Femme Nikita, Farscape, Neon Genesis Evangelion, X/1999, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Escaflowne, Read or Die, Fushigi Yuugi, Fullmetal Alchemist and all incarnations of Star Trek.

I attempted to watch but was bored by or not in the mood for all the Stargates and Battlestar Galactica. And I'm looking for something more kickass and less cute, ie, not Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, etc.

3. The women must actually kick ass, not merely be the main character. A female main character who is magic or prophetic and is surrounded by hot guys who love her and kick ass for her, while excellent in their own way, is not what I'm looking for. For example, most fantasy shoujo series do not have the female lead doing much battling herself, even though she's the heroine and the story is about her.

4. The female lead or female characters must not be secondary to the male characters, or inferior in skills the show considers to be important. For instance, there is a very cool kick-ass woman in Gundam Wing. But she is a secondary character. Also, in a show about piloting giant robots, the women who pilot the giant robots only pilot the inferior type of giant robots, or are not as skilled as the male pilots. Any show along those lines does not qualify REGARDLESS of how cool and kickass some of its female characters are anyway.

5. Must be, in some way, available in English or with English subtitles. If it's not officially available, telling me where I could find it would be helpful.

6. The female characters must not be mostly naked much of the time.

7. Giant robots, guns, swords, and martial arts would be a huge plus. I realize that shows like Cagney and Lacey would probably qualify, but I'm looking for something a bit more fun and modern.

8. If you're going to recommend old American TV series, please try to recall if, along with women kicking ass, there was also obnoxious amounts of sexist joking. If so, don't rec.

9. You have to tell me what the show you're reccing is about and why it might qualify, or your rec will be totally meaningless to me.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Mar. 29th, 2007 11:38 am)
[ profile] cofax7 notes that of twenty nominees in prose categories, only one writer is female. Also, in a con which will be taking place in Japan, not a single nominee in any category is Japanese. (I don't know everyone's race, but I suspect it's the usual white male suspects all round.) In comments, I suggest some possible reasons for this.

When I was thinking more of being a fantasy novelist than having the peculiar and ADD-like writing career that I actually have, I used to pore over the Hugo and Nebula winner and nominee lists, and count the women. If you took out Connie Willis, the results became approximately five times more discouraging than they already were.

It's all very well to say, "May the best man win!" But when it the person picked as best so disproportionately often is a man, the message that sends to women is this:

You're not good enough.

We don't want you here.

Even if you are the best, we won't notice or acknowledge you.

I am pretending very hard that you don't exist.

It occurred to me in retrospect that, since most Hugo nominators evidently were not in the habit of seeking out non-western sf, it would have been nice if someone had put together a long list of eligible Japanese sf available in English, and posted it on the Nippon 07 website. I wonder if it would make a difference if long lists of eligible female writers' works were posted as well. Just so people could at least see what they're ignoring, and perhaps wonder if they ought to ignore it.

After all, don't people read sf because they like trying new things, exploring new frontiers, and looking at the perspective of people (or aliens) who are not exactly like them?
In the highly competitive field of smug, shallow, self-absorbed memoirs by smug, shallow, self-absorbed people, Shutterbabe sweeps away all other contenders to win the prize for the memoir most likely to discredit the entire genre.

Kogan's memoir is about her experiences as a young female photojournalist who spends four years of her life photographing war zones and having affairs. Her system is as follows: she accepts an assignment to photograph some dangerous and newsworthy area. She shows up with no clue of what's going on over there or how she's supposed to find the war. She attaches herself to a male journalist or, occasionally, a local man and has him take her around or point her in the right direction. She has an affair with him, frequently of an abusive nature. She encounters sexism from other journalists and local men; sometimes she's physically or sexually assaulted. She informs us that this is the inevitable lot of being a petite woman in a man's world. She reminds us that she was a homecoming queen, that she went to Harvard, and that she's won a lot of awards. She takes her photos, brow-beats herself a bit for being unprepared and not giving a damn about the people she's photographing but only being interested in the voyeuristic thrills and career success she can garner, and goes home. Repeat.

The best parts of the memoir are the details of how photojournalists work: how they lug around and sometimes disguise their equipment, how their presence affects the events they're recording, and how they're wedded to exploitative agencies that tend to keep them poor. The best chapter is the one where Kogan visits Romania and has an affair with a local photographer. It's the only one where, due to her interaction with him, she seems to have any understanding of the people she's photographing. A visit to a nightmarish Romanian orphanage, described in surreal and horrifying detail, is the best piece of writing in the book, and also prompts her to do something far, far better than she has ever done: she gives up her photos of it to a more famous and connected photojournalist in the hope that he will be able to get them published or take his own and publish them, and so get conditions improved there.

But too much of the memoir concerns the increasingly insufferable Kogan's irresistability to every man she meets. She tries to connect her thrillseeking in wars with her thrillseeking in sex, but that just makes her seem priveleged, shallow, and exploitative of the people who are dying for her thrills; and she tried to draw a parallel between her personal experiences with sexual violence and the violence she photographs, but her incomplete understanding of feminism just makes her seem undereducated and clueless. She seems to think that feminism is the understanding that men are sexist and violent and there's a double standard, and that women are helpless and that a woman who has sexual and physical adventures is just trying to be a man, and that's just how it is. As Inigo Montoya might say, "You keep saying that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means."

And then there's the last chapter. The infuriating last chapter.

Kogan meets her True Love, marries him, realizes that what she really wants is to have children because Jews have a moral responsibility to procreate to make up for the Holocaust (I am not making that up), and is shocked, shocked, when she finds that journalism is not supportive of women with children. So she quits to be a mommy and a writer-- with "an angel of a woman from the Phillippines" to actually take care of her children.

Now, that's fine. I know many mothers who are writers. I support Kogan's personal decision. What I do not support is her insistence that having children is the best and most moral and most womanly and wonderful act a person can possibly do, and that if you don't marry and have children your life is empty and meaningless and stunted no matter what else you do.

"I see the middle-aged single women who work in my new profession, the often angry and sad ones who were born late enough to reap the early benefits of feminism but not late enough to give up the whole notion of pretending to be a man in order to succeed. These women have offices crammed with Emmys, but homes with rooms barren of possessions and memories save their own."

That male journalist who helped the Romanian orphans? His life is also worthless compared to that of any random person with a baby, because even though he helped save the lives of other people's children, he didn't father any of his own. And of course bringing more children into the world is ever so much more important than making sure the ones who are already there have a decent life.

And in the end, doesn't it all come down to biology?

"How many times did I regret the enormous trouble my body caused me, the way it bled and attracted assaults"

Note how Kogan, who earlier had refused to wear a burka when traveling in Afghanistan with mujahedeen, is using the same reasoning here as the Taliban.

"and made me an easy target for any man with a gripe and a will to act upon it? How many times did I wish my body weren't curvy? Or small and weak and useless as a weapon of self-defense?"

Kogan seems to forget that she knows men who were beaten or murdered by other men, despite having bodies that were big and strong and useful. And that, when she does decide to physically fight against an assault, she actually succeeds. Or what the real issue is here, which is the society, culture, and individuals who think violence is OK, NOT her body. Again, this is the same reasoning as the Taliban: women's bodies are the problem. No female bodies or presence, no violence. The vagina calls out to the rapist. No vagina, no problem.

"What an ingrate I was. What a unique gift to have a body that can serve as a vessel to a future life. What a stroke of good design to have breasts that will sustain it. What an important responsibility to be cast as the keeper of the flame rather than the igniter of the fires."

I could quote more, but I have to go fulfill my womanly duty and find some Jew to procreate with now.
Jennifer Boylan was once Jim Boylan: novelist, teacher, and father of two sons. But from his earliest memories, he had always believed that he was female, but trapped in a male body. Finally he can't take it any more, comes out to his wife, male best friend, and everyone else, and decides to make his body match his identity.

As might be expected from a professional writer, this is a very well-written memoir, and not only has an inherently interesting subject, but an unusual focus, which is how Boylan's change affects the people who know her and their relationships. It's quite thought-provoking, though I would have liked to see it go farther in grappling with the issue of gender identity and how that interacts with social and personal conceptions of masculinity and femininity.

For instance, after Boylan begins taking estrogen and presenting herself as female but before having the operation, she becomes obsessed with dieting even though her weight is perfectly normal. She feels that this is the result of her picking up on societal pressures on women-- but if she always identified as female, why did she never feel that before? And if the pressure is so great that even someone raised and living as a man immediately succumbs to it, why is it that some women raised in cultures less obsessed with weight are immune to the diet frenzy even after moving to the US? Did Boylan already believe that women are manipulated by social pressures, and so was predisposed to that manipulation?

I don't have an answer, but I would have liked to see more thought devoted to those questions, and similar ones dealing with sexual orientation. A doctor tells Boylan that of his heterosexual male-to-female patients, after the operation one third stay attracted to women, making them lesbians, sort of. One third become attracted to men, making them heterosexual, sort of. And one third become asexual. I can't even begin to guess what this says about gender and sexual orientation-- fluid? fixed, but in different ways for different people? -- But I'd have liked to see the matter explored further.

I followed a link from a webpage on the book to a webpage on transsexuality, intersexuality, and gender identity, which suggests that gender identity is based on brain structure rather than genetics, genitalia, or upbringing. This explains everything from the sad case of John/Joan (a boy who was raised as a girl after losing his penis in a circumcision accident, but who believed that he was male despite all insistence to the contrary) to androgen insensitivity (people genetically XY who appear female and have female gender identities) and, of course, transsexuals.

However, I have a problem with the site's definition of male and female identities, as they seem entangled in stereotypical ideas of masculinity and femininity:

"It is amazing that psychiatrists completely missed all of this in the past, and so long assumed that gender identity was neutral at birth and later established by social interactions. Mis-gendered people themselves have long reported their problem not as one of THOUGHTS, but of cross-gendered percepts and BODY FEELINGS - as a little child the gendered feelings of how your body wants to move, how you respond to being touched, how aggressive or cuddly you are, how you interact with other little children. Then, after puberty, one's feelings upon being sexually aroused, and whether those deep urges are male (mounting urges) or female (urges of being manipulated and penetrated)."

This suggests that a woman who is aggressive and likes to be on top has a male gender identity. I beg to differ.

I have always strongly identified as female (as far as I know, I am physically and genetically female), so much so that as a girl, I was offended when I was called a tomboy. I felt that not only was I not a boy, I was not even boy-like. Rather, I felt that the feelings and activities which people said were masculine couldn't be, because I experienced them and I was a girl. I was a girl who liked to climb trees and kick balls and catch lizards, therefore none of those likings could be masculine.

To this day, I am dubious about the terms "masculine" and "feminine" when they are presented as anything other than common stereotypes, cultural trends, or bell-curves. But though I can't think of a single non-biological or physical tendency or trait that I sincerely believe is truly masculine or feminine, I am still rock-solid convinced that I am one hundred percent female. It's a puzzler.


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