III Ann Likes Red
Every time there's a ToC fail, someone steps up to say "But it's mostly men who read/write science fiction anyway! So it's hardly surprising there aren't that many women* being published or recognized!"
I want to say something intelligent and articulate about the invisibility of women in the wider SFF community. How more women read regularly for entertainment than men, generally, and how the assumption that it's all white guys reading science fiction seems pretty freaking unlikely, especially given the jillions of women I could point to right now who read and/or write the stuff. How actually, nobody has any really hard data about the readership of SFF. It's not that women aren't there and never have been, it's that for some reason we're invisible.
I'm not up for it right now. Instead, I urge you to go read The Secret Feminist Cabal and How to Suppress Women's Writing. (In fact, How to Suppress Women's Writing really ought to be required reading for, like, everyone.)
I also want to say something about representation. When I was a wee little Ann, I was dazzled by the color red. It was, in fact, my favorite color. And so, when I was given a copy of that enduring classic Ann Likes Red, I was thrilled. It was as though the author had seen into my very soul! And written a book about me.**
I lucked out. My name was Ann, my favorite color was red. Maybe I still would have liked the book if those things weren't true--the amazon reviews suggest that it was an excellent book for beginning readers and was beloved by more than just us Anns. Still, I had that extra joy, of seeing myself in the story.
As an adult, I look back and wonder how many beginning-reader books had, say, Anns with darker skin or non-european features. How much harder it might have been for a lot of kids to feel like they were part of the story.
Because I think that's important. Not that every reader must identify with every protagonist, or that any differences between reader and protagonist make it impossible to identify, or enjoy a story. No, not that. But I believe that stories aren't just stories. I believe that narrative is a basic mode of human thought, that we use stories to categorize, to model, to build up our conception of the world and how it works. When we find ourselves in a given situation, without even thinking about it we start pulling up narratives that might fit, chose one, and that helps us organize our thoughts and choices. It doesn't dictate, no, but organizes. The stories we tell, the stories we hear, underlie our assumptions about how the world works, how things are.
So it seems to me only natural that one of the things children (not just children! But.) are looking for in a story is where they fit into things. Where do I fit in the story? What roles can I play in these narratives? And it is disheartening--more than disheartening!--to always receive, for an answer, "Well, you can never be the hero. That's for white boys. But you could be the beautiful prize the hero wins at the end! Or you can be the plucky sidekick!" Or worse. "There's no place for you here."
When there's never--or hardly ever--room for you in stories, the implication is that there's no room for you in the world.
Yes, yes, it's entirely possible for a young black woman to identify with a middle-aged white male protagonist. Absolutely. Yes, readers ought to learn to identify with characters different from them. Yes, yes, I know that. We all of us, non-male (non-white, non-straight, non-default) people, we know that because we've been doing it. Over and over and over, for years. And that's all fine, you know? But it's nice to see that there's a place in the narratives for us, too. And maybe--just maybe--we could ask the white guys to do the lifting, identifying with someone not like them. Imagining a narrative where they weren't themselves the default center of the world.
I could say more on this (translation: I could rant longer), but instead I'm going to link to Hal Duncan, who often has very smart things to say so if you're not reading his blog already, you should.
*Or PoC. (MammothFail, anyone?) Or GLBT. The panel I'm chewing over was about gender bias, but let's not pretend that's the only concern here. It isn't.
**Admittedly, Ann Likes Red is thin on plot. A little girl named Ann goes shopping for clothes, and insists on everything being red because...right, Ann likes red. She ends up clothed and accessorized all in red, and is happy, the end. I was a whole four years old at the time, and not a particularly sophisticated reader. It was enough for me.
Part 2 Slush
Part 3 Ann Likes Red
Part 4 Bias Is Inherent in the System
Part 5 Women Write Different Stories From Men?
Part 6 Fight for Your Right to Party
Part 7 Ending on Felicitous Seven