Books About Girls: a Clarification

I just saw another post lamenting the silly – but unfortunately common – idea that boys can’t be expected to read books about girls, even though girls commonly read books about boys. (In fact, we’re often required to, for school.) I’ve written about this before. So has the excellent Shannon Hale.

It strikes me that part of the issue may be that people have different notions of what “books about girls” or “girl-centric books” are. When we say “it’s a problem that boys aren’t expected to read books about girls,” I think we usually mean “books with female protagonists.” At other times, though, “books about girls” may be used to mean “books about the experience of being a girl” or “books designed to appeal to girls” (which usually means they are about romance and/or close female friendships, possibly with a side of fashion and gossip).

This affects the conversation a lot! After all, this:

eight books on a pink background, titles listed later in this post

. . . may turn off a lot of boys. It turns off a lot of girls, too. Others love it. Some boys love these books, too, or would if they felt they were allowed to. The boys and girls who do want to read these books should be able to enjoy them without judgement, but I wouldn’t argue for pushing people to read them any more than I would argue for pushing them to read sports books or mysteries. It’s nice to at least try it out, to broaden your horizons, but if you don’t like it, that’s fine.

On the other hand, if you subscribe to a broader idea of “books about girls” that encompasses all books with female protagonists, then you get something more like this:

twenty-five books, titles listed later in this post

These books range from horror to humor, from fantasy to romance. There are mysteries. There is action. There are comics. The settings are different. The tones are different. The protagonists are very different people, with one thing in common: they are female. If that’s enough for a reader to say, “ew, girl book, I won’t read that” – or for a parent to say “my son won’t read that” or a teacher to say “the boys in my class won’t read that” – then society, we have a problem.

In case anyone’s curious, I’ll list the books here. All are books I’ve read and enjoyed. I went with mostly YA (with one or two MG) both because that’s my own reading preference and because kids and teens who are reading these books so often fall victim to this weird genderization of reading preferences.

Graphic One:

1. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
2. Vanished by E.E. Cooper
3. Ali’s Pretty Little Lies by Sara Shepard
4. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
5. The Selection by Kiera Cass
6. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
7. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
8. Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Graphic Two (repeats some books from Graphic One):

1. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
2. George by Alex Gino
3. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
4. Smile by Raina Telgemeier
5. Ten by Gretchen McNeil
6. This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
7. Sweet by Emmy Laybourne
8. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
9. Endangered by Lamar Giles
10. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
11. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
12. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
13. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
14. Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
15. They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
16. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
17. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
18. Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill
19. Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
20. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
21. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
22. Adaptation by Malinda Lo
23. Huntress by Malinda Lo (ha, I didn’t even realize I had put in two Malinda Lo books – and right next to each other!)
24. The Selection by Kiera Cass
25. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

If You’re Going to Dance in Storms, You Should Probably Research Them First

So, awhile ago, I was looking at upcoming teen books to potentially order for the library where I work, and I saw this:


And then I saw this:

“. . . Japanese Steampunk novel with mythical creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist . . .” – from Patrick Rothfuss’ blurb

My heart, it went pitter-pat.

So I ordered the book for our library. It arrived, looking just as pretty as the image above, and has so far circulated a couple of times. I have not read it. But recently, I started reading some reviews that made my heart go things other than pitter-pat. Things more in the general vein of “sink,” if I had to be specific.

The first review I saw was this one at lady business, which broadly and briefly covers some facts that have been bothering people: author Jay Kristoff seems to have got a lot of his Japanese culture stuff (notably terms of address, whether or not pandas live in Japan) wrong, and then basically brushed off all criticism: “It’s fantasy, folks, not international frackin’ diplomacy.”

For a much more detailed, blow-by-blow account of problems one reader had with the book, see the review at You’re Killing Me. While I, too, would probably take issue with the Bathing Scene of Unexamined Creepiness (I must here recommend this excellent post on the male gaze in writing), the thing mostly under scrutiny in Stormdancer is that it’s inaccurate to Japan and Japanese culture.

Kristoff’s main response to this criticism seems to be a claim that the story actually takes place in a land like Japan, and not actual Japan. Some people are brushing this off, but I think it’s an important point. I strongly believe that people should be able – even encouraged – to write settings that are loosely based on non-European civilizations in the same way that oh so many fantasies take place in settings that are loosely based on European cultures. You shouldn’t be held to the historical facts of a country that your setting is only based on, any more than we should shake our fists at dozens of popular fantasy authors because medieval Europe didn’t really have this term or that animal.

I wrote myself awhile ago about coming up with another name for garments my characters were wearing that are close to saris in part because I didn’t want people assuming my setting was India when it isn’t; a similar concern is expressed by blogger Linda in this excellent post on her desire to write fantasy with Asian characters that isn’t set in Asia. (Yes, technically, one is only Asian if one comes from Asia. What she means is that she wants to write characters who, if they were in our world, would be considered to look Asian, in the same way that legions of blonde and blue-eyed fantasy heroes and heroines would look recognizably Caucasian, despite the fact that their fantasy worlds presumably have no Caucasus regions.)

BUT. The blurb right on the front cover of Stormdancer refers to the novel as “Japanese,” and Kristoff doesn’t correct it. There is, apparently, very frequent use of Japanese terms – the book actually includes a glossary. Curiously, some of the terms, like -sama and hai, are used incorrectly throughout the book but have their correct uses described in the glossary. This does rather support Kristoff’s claim that he has fudged and changed things a la George R. R. Martin, who bases his famous A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series loosely on England during the War of the Roses, but changes spellings (“sir” to “ser,” for example).

Still, the impression I get is that Kristoff has crossed the line into appropriation territory. (For a good article on the location of this line, see the Zoe-Trope.)

I also get the impression he makes some choices that are just plain unfortunate. Linda, whose blog I mentioned earlier, also gives us an excellent rant on how frustrating it is that, in a world populated with characters who look Japanese, everyone swoons over the protagonist’s love interest . . . because of his green eyes. Certainly being attracted to people who look different from you is common – and often genetically useful – but to make everyone wildly attracted to (and not even a little, um, freaked out by) an eye color that presumably they’ve never seen on a human before? And an eye color that, not gonna lie, is pretty much a white thing? Kiiinda problematic.

Related to that, one thing I’ve personally gained from all this: the idea of researching different cultures’ standards of beauty. I think that paying so much attention to eye color is really kind of a white thing – if everyone in your culture has brown eyes, are you going to notice it when you meet a new person? That would be kind of like noticing that they have a nose. (On a side note, how hilarious would it be if a character did describe each person s/he met without taking anything for granted? “He walked upright on two legs, with one head located at the top of his body . . .” Somewhat hilarious, is my guess, followed by very tedious.) I’ve already tried to emphasize other, non-eye-color features in the aforementioned not-set-in-India fantasy, but I’ll be curious to learn more about how other cultures measure attractiveness.

How about you? What features do your characters notice about themselves and others? What features do their cultures value and devalue?

Not Everyone Screws it Up

Recently, there’s been stuff said about the treatment of women in DC comics. Stuff that seems to have some real truth behind it, and for that reason is quite depressing.

For example, female characters whose creators call them “liberated” but who are shown acting – and perhaps more obviously, posing – in ways that seem much more about the straight male readers’ gaze than about what the character would want, as if they were porn stars rather than superheroines. (I suppose gay and bi women could be gazing this gaze, too, but I’d hope that most of them would feel more dismay at the women of superherodom being turned into pretty props. But then, I’d kind of hope everyone would feel more dismay about that.) Female characters who used to have substance being “rebooted” into sexy scenery. Superheroines whose roles in the new comics can be described in words like these, from a seven-year-old girl who was a fan of this character in a previous series and is now seeing the reboot:“Well she is on the beach in her bikini. But . . . she’s not relaxing or swimming. She’s just posing a lot. . . . she’s not fighting anyone. And not talking to anyone really. She’s just almost naked and posing.” And so on.

But! I am here today to talk about Darcy Lewis.

This is not because we apparently share a surname. (I didn’t realize this until I went on IMDB. It’s cool, though, isn’t it?)

Darcy Lewis is a supporting character in the recent Thor movie. A minor character, really. But she’s funny, and she’s a woman of action – hard to argue otherwise about the person who tases the god of thunder. And, importantly, she’s a female character whose role in the story is not defined by her gender. She’s not female because our heteronormative culture dictates that she has to be, as with Thor’s love interest, or because she physically has to be, as with Thor’s mom (although read some Nordic myths, and you’ll see some really interesting parentage going on). Nor is her sex, her sexuality, or her sexiness an Issue. Don’t get me wrong, Sif’s cool, but she kind of screams “token girl” – an impression reinforced by her back-and-forth with Thor to the effect that she had to prove that “a maid” could be as good a warrior as the others in Asgard.

Darcy, though, is not someone’s romantic interest, someone’s mom, or the leather-clad Team Chick who’s Just as Bad as the Boys. She’s not even blatant eye candy – she’s cute, but not flashy or fanservicey. Darcy is female because sometimes people are female. About half the population, in fact.

If this seems like a lot of picky stuff to apply to female characters, think about how many of the male characters in the movie meet these criteria – basically, the criteria that they could have been either sex without it making a real difference. True, Thor is limited by the fact that it’s working with characters from existing canon – canons, actually, as there’s the comic canon and the original mythology. Still, most of the male characters are just people, while most of the female characters fall into roles that must be female, such as “mother” and “the one girl warrior” – as if the only reason you would make a character female is that you have to. Darcy’s “cool character who happens to be female” status is so unusual that it actually stood out enough for me to write this whole blog post, for crying out loud.

Naturally, there’s room in movies for characters who are basically someone’s mom (though it’s a little sad to compare the movie’s portrayal of Odin, with his lines, action, and importance, to that of Thor’s Mom, She Who Doesn’t Get a Name in the Movie). But there’s only room for those characters when there are also strong female characters – and I think Jane’s actually a pretty good one in Thor, though it’s hard to argue she’s not basically a romantic interest when you look at whose name is in the title – and female characters, like Darcy, whose femaleness is not the point, as I would venture to say is the case for most actual women.

I have no intention of knocking Thor. I love Thor. I’ve seen it three times and I own the DVD. But, no lie, part of the reason I love it is because of Darcy. I know Thor is Marvel, and I’ve always been a DC loyalist – indoctrination by my dad plus a very early crush on Batman. (Oh come on, like you didn’t have one.) But maybe this is a movie the DC peeps should take a good hard look at next time they’re creating – or rebooting – female superheroes.

Let There Be Dark

In ignorant and judgmental news, a recent Wall Street Journal article informs the unsuspecting populace of several terrifying (non)facts! Did you know:

  • There are no YA books out there that aren’t full of “vampires and suicide and self-mutilation” – seriously, you can go to Barnes & Noble and you won’t find a one!
  • This is totally new! YA books didn’t exist at all forty years ago, and back then books had the decency not to mention a lot of problems real people have, because obviously that is the healthy way to approach such topics!
  • Reading this kind of book will not only change your child’s developing taste, but will affect her/his “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart”! These books will “bulldoze coarseness or misery into [your] children’s lives”!
  • Nasty authors and publishers don’t want books to tone down foul language in books, “provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation.” Bad, bad authors and publishers, with their realism and authenticity! And bad librarians for encouraging them!
  • Most teens don’t read YA anyway, because this kind of ugliness isn’t what they want!

This article ranges from eye-rolling to disturbing. It scoffs at the condemnation of censorship and even book-banning, implying that this is a parent’s duty. Either the author doesn’t realize that censorship goes beyond helping your own kids make choices to removing choices for other people, or she is actively promoting this behavior.

Also, she makes passing jabs at The Hunger Games and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T.

There are some great responses to this out in the blogosphere – I especially like the one at YA Librarian pointing out the meaning of these books to some kids and teens, the one at Read Now Sleep Later telling of what “dark” realistic fiction has done for the blogger personally, and the one at the School Library Journal blog A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy, which dissects many of the problems (down to basic math) in the WSJ article.

Personally, I see great value to these books despite never having been drawn to them myself. (I’m a sucker for cheesy happy endings.) But here’s the thing: readers choose what they want to read. To a certain extent, parents may choose what their children read. But there is a definite supply-and-demand aspect that the author of the WSJ article seems not to grasp. These books aren’t being written and published because people feel like shoving unwanted topics down the throats of readers who’d rather be enjoying a nice (but tame, I’m sure! No more than holding hands!) romantic comedy. That would be a great way to never get published or to tank a publishing company. No, these books are out there because they speak to realities and to things that many people want – and sometimes need – to read. That’s why authors write them, that’s why bookstores stock them, and that’s why teens and non-teens read them.

(Although, as the SLJ blogger pointed out, seriously? This person was at Barnes & Noble and couldn’t find any Ally Carter or Meg Cabot or, you know, Diana Wynne Jones, or ANYTHING?)

Anyway: These books don’t exist for the people who don’t want them. No one will force any kid to read one of these books. If a teacher assigns one that a kid objects to or that a kid’s parents don’t want her/him to read, the parents can talk to the teacher about alternatives for their kids. But to look at all the stuff that’s out there and say, “Well, I don’t like that! I can’t imagine anyone liking that!”, and then to make the leap to, “Therefore, it shouldn’t exist!” . . . Well, if I operated that way, and industries had the bizarre idea that they should listen to me, beer wouldn’t exist, or shirts that you have to layer because they’re too thin to wear on their own, or uncomfortable shoes, or chalk.

So . . . yeah. Probably I am preaching to the choir here. But seriously, look at this article if you want to feel especially open-minded and well-informed by comparison.

The Truth About Lying

You know what bothersome thing I’ve frequently seen in fiction? Characters who apparently have unnoted psychic lie-detecting abilities.

Looking into his eyes, she knew he spoke the truth.


“She’s lying,” I said with certainty.


He clearly believed what he was saying.

Righty-ho. Maybe our hero saw the suspect leaving the scene, so he knows for a fact that she’s lying when she says she was never there. Perhaps our hero is the suspect’s lifelong bestest best friend, and feels able based on that to judge whether she’s telling the truth. Possibly our hero is actually psychic. In these cases, the reader is usually made aware of the relevant facts.

Or, ooh! Maybe the author wants to stop that line of questioning and proceed in another direction, so we need to believe this loose end is tied up, which doesn’t work if the person in question might be lying. Or perhaps our heroine is about to rough the suspect up, and would seem like a jerk for doing that if she wasn’t sure he was lying.

This is especially common with characters who are trained as psychologists, or are cops, or grew up on the streets and had to learn to read people, or are just “very intuitive.” There are any number of qualifications that render a character able to act as a lie detector. Only, you know, reliable. Unlike actual lie detectors.

I personally can’t claim any degree of this ability. It sometimes takes me a moment to realize people are even being sarcastic. If someone were actually trying to deceive me, I fear the chances of my recognizing that fact would be perilously slim.

But I’m not alone! I recently read the excellent – if eerie – article “On the Psychology of Confessions: Does Innocence Put Innocents at Risk?” by Saul Kassin. This paper, which spans many experiments and case studies, explores the question of how good people actually are at telling whether or not other people are lying. Not good, as it turns out. Furthermore, training – such as that given to police interrogators – did not statistically increase their accuracy, but did increase their confidence in their accuracy. (How’s that for scary?)

While the whole article is a fascinating read, the fact that grabbed me most comes from a footnote. “After testing more than 13,000 people from all walks of life, O’Sullivan and Ekman (2004) have thus far identified only 15 ‘wizards’ of lie detection who can consistently achieve at least an 80% level of accuracy in their judgments” (Kassin 2005). (I would cite the original work, The Wizards of Deception Detection by O’Sullivan and Ekman, rather than citing a citation, but the original is a book rather than an article I can just read online and link to.)

That’s about 0.001% of people who are consistently correct in distinguishing between truth and lies . . . at least four times out of five.

So even the 0.001% of humans who are the absolute best at telling truth from lies might still be wrong as much as 20% of the time.

I’m sure there are rogue super-wizards who are correct so consistently that they are, for all practical purposes, accurate lie detectors. Still, it would be nice for writers to keep in mind that this is extremely, extremely rare. Just being a cop or psychologist or a streetwise con artist does not qualify a person to sniff out falsehoods.

Naturally, this doesn’t preempt a character’s believing that s/he is super-accurate, or that someone else is. But if a character actually is reliably accurate, the writer should perhaps be aware that that character has been endowed with an incredibly rare ability. (Or possibly absurdly good luck.)

Besides all of this hard-facts stuff, I typically find characters more relatable when they’re unsure about who to believe in these situations. It also gives a scene more depth and tension when the character and the reader aren’t sure what’s true and who to trust.

Interesting . . .

Apparently there’s this guy, James Frey. Whose name I might have heard once or twice before. Who’s now doing . . . stuff . . . with YA books.

Specifically, Mr. Frey is gathering a stable of writers to write high-concept books in an attempt to produce the next commercially huge YA book phenomenon. The idea for one of these books can come from Mr. Frey or from the writer, but either way, in return for Mr. Frey’s contacts and support, these writers sign contracts that basically forfeit all of their rights to everything short of their DNA. They are then paid – get ready for it – $250 up front, and another $250 upon delivery of the book. They also get some percentage of all revenue minus expenses (with no audit or assurance that these numbers are actually based on anything). There’s another article here by a writer who almost joined this stable, chronicling his experiences.

In one incident in the second article, Mr. Frey tells the writer, while they are discussing a book concept, to think merchandising – in fact, to think Happy Meals.

Stables of writers working anonymously to create popular books are, of course, nothing new. (Nancy Drew, anyone?) Still, this level of commercialism astounds me. I’d almost be ready to shrug and say, “At least he’s honest about his intentions,” but honesty doesn’t make you immune from being a jerk. Naturally, no one forces writers to sign up for this endeavor, but the terms seem as contemptuous toward them as the whole enterprise seems toward, well, books.


This is Not Okay

I’m a little late on this, but you’re probably aware of several recent bullying-related tragedies. (Link courtesy of this excellent post by Garland Grey on Tiger Beatdown.) LGBTQ teens have terrifyingly high suicide rates compared to teens who don’t identify as LGBTQ, and I think it’s fair to say that bullying is a serious factor.

This is beyond sad, and it is completely unacceptable. Ye gods, is being a teenager not hard enough? To be not only bullied by peers, but to see the nonreaction – even implicit acceptance or worse – of teachers and other adults, is a terrifying thing. If an adult in a position of responsibility is aware of abuse and does not take action to stop it, s/he is condoning that abuse. Kids and teens can see that. And what does that say? It says, “The bullies are right. There’s something wrong with you, and you deserve this. You’ve brought it on yourself.”

This is patently untrue. It is a vicious, ignorant, prejudiced attack. Children and teenagers are just discovering who they are, and LGBTQ teens are being told that who they are is bad and wrong, deserving of harassment and (in the eyes of some) of eternal condemnation. This is an attitude that is causing teens to kill themselves.

I don’t feel like getting too deeply into my feelings about homophobia, largely because they are CAPS-LOCK VIOLENT. Suffice it to say that:

  1. All research indicates that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice. So does all common sense. Why would anyone choose an orientation that, in today’s society, can get you harassed, sometimes to the point of murder – and that, statistically speaking, lowers your pool of possible orientation-compatible mates? Also, I’ve yet to meet a straight person who can tell me when s/he “chose” to be straight. But even given all that . . .
  2. Even if it was a choice, there’s nothing wrong with being LGBTQ. Maybe it’s my having been raised atheist, but I really don’t get people’s issue here. Why in the world would wanting to date/kiss/marry/sleep with someone of the opposite sex be “better” or “worse” than wanting to date/kiss/marry/sleep with someone of the same sex? And why does it bother people when someone doesn’t dress or act the way lots of men or women do? Does that HURT anyone? (Incidentally, I feel the same way about the idea that gay couples adopting kids could cause the kids to be gay: This is nonsense, and even if it weren’t, SO WHAT?) And besides all that . . . *drum roll* . . .
  3. Except for the person in question and anyone considering dating that person, all of this is none of anyone’s damn business.

SO! Why I am posting this on a writing blog? Well, partly just because I feel strongly about the issue, but partly because I know that reading can be instrumental in raising awareness and tolerance and in making people feel less alone. So, in addition to mentioning two projects intended to help LGBTQ teens – The It Gets Better Project and The We Got Your Back Project, I thought I’d make a Really Long List of YA GLBTQ books, courtesy of the Young Adult Library Services Association. Far from complete, but it’s something.

Me, Having Opinions!

. . . and werewolves! If only.

I’ve been thinking, again, about women in fiction. Probably most or all of you are familiar with the Bechdel Test, but if you’re not, it’s a test for movies that can also be applied to books. To pass the Bechdel Test, a work must:

  1. include at least two female characters (sometimes taken to mean “with names/lines” – generally does not count “that maid in the background of the shot”)
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.

The last bit is especially interesting to me because a story can fail it for at least two distinct reasons:

  1. The female characters are interested only in their relationships to men, what men think, what men think of them, etc.
  2. The only characters in the story doing something worth talking about are male ones.

(Me + HTML lists 4eva!)

So they can fail differently based in part on whether the female characters’ sole topic of conversation is men as a group or specific male characters. (I say “in part” because they can be talking about a specific male character and still fail the first way if all they have to say is, “Do you think he liiikes meee?”)

I’m thinking about this partly because I’m amazed at how many stories don’t pass, or barely pass, the first part of the Bechdel Test. They’ll have a male protagonist who has a female love interest, maybe a mom, and possibly either a sister or a female friend. I’m going to use movies to demonstrate this, mostly because it’s so easy to look at the ratios of women and men via the IMDB lists of top-billing actors. (I’m also going to use the term “gender” to mean a character’s sex. Just so you know.) For some reason, the two movies that immediately pop into my mind are Sherlock Holmes and Kung Foo Panda.

I liked both of these, but okay, the top billing actors of Sherlock Holmes are three women and twelve men. Of the women, two are love interests and one is the housekeeper. Yes, I realize that Irene Adler is cool and capable – though not too capable to be rescued multiple times by Holmes and outwitted by him in the end, of course! – but she still basically fills the role of romantic interest. I don’t think any two of these women even appear in the same scene, let alone speak to each other. I know this is a period piece, kiiinda, but come on.

The ratio of Kung Fu Panda is two women to thirteen men. Yeah. And this one doesn’t have the excuse of being any kind of period piece, because it establishes that its setting is one in which female characters can become kung fu masters without anyone batting an eye. Of course, the master of the kung fu masters is male. As is the old mentor. And the villain. And the hero. Naturally.

The interesting thing about this latter movie is that – with no romance or gender-related elements in the movie – you could say that the sexes of the characters doesn’t matter. Or shouldn’t matter, anyway. I’d agree. But when eighty-seven percent of the characters are one gender, that story hasn’t been written as if gender didn’t matter. You think the writer was flipping a coin for the characters’ genders? I somehow doubt it.

Well, gawsh, there must be movies that skew more toward women in casting. Let’s try looking up, oh, Pride and Prejudice, BBC version.

Twenty-four women, seventeen men. (That’s still just top billing. It’s a longer list.)

Hunh. Well, women in the majority, but nothing like eighty-seven percent. Um . . . Charlie’s Angels?

Four women, eleven men.

I should note, in case anyone wonders, that I have not been picking and choosing movies based on what fits my argument here. These are all of the movies I checked on.

I think a lot of this has less to do with explicit, active sexism (“a woman can’t be a credible villain!”) than to do with mental defaults. I read somewhere the excellent point that, in our culture, a smiley face – two dots and a curve, like 🙂 – is assumed to be male unless you put eyelashes on it. Similarly, I think when someone says, “the protagonist” or “the villain,” a lot of people assume they’re hearing about a male character.

A bit of this probably has to do with male writers, and is simply a result of projecting. A few months ago, my mom was reading aloud from a newspaper article about a murder in the area, while I and a male friend listened. When she finished, she glanced over it and remarked that the article had never given the victim’s gender, saying only, “a student.” My friend and I realized at the same time that, while I’d assumed a female victim, he’d assumed a male one.

On the other hand, someone could really stand to check this stuff. I feel like books and movies focused largely on female characters tend to still contain a lot of male ones. How many can you think of that would fail a male version of the Bechdel Test?

*Tries to remember the Pride and Prejudice guys talking about things other than women*

Okay, maybe one. But not a lot. And outside of romance plots, hardly any, whereas tons of genres tend toward skewing in the opposite direction.

This occurred to me in part because I’ve been making a conscious effort to have balance in my current novel. (Which, as I haven’t mentioned it yet, is tentatively titled Looking Like Lani.) With every character whose gender isn’t important to the plot, I ask myself, “What if this character were female?” The result is a lot more female characters than many of my stories have. It’s far from devoid of male characters – indeed, I suspect it has a more realistic sex ratio than a lot of fantasy stories do, at least within the realms of their named/speaking characters – but it’s an interesting thing to consider because I realize that, to some extent, I was defaulting to male.

Period-esque fantasy can do this to you. Whether it’s, “who’s driving the carriage?” or, “who’s ruling the country?” we’re swamped with examples, historical and fictional, in which the answer is, “a man.” Indeed, I think that it can be easier to catch yourself doing this with the highest positions, and some fantasies throw in a queen by way of addressing this. These authors probably go to bed feeling very feminist, never mind that the entire female population of their fantasy world seems to be Her Majesty, the hero’s romantic interest, and a few tavern wenches. The hero and his friends, the mayor of town, the innkeeper, the folks in the stables and herding the sheep and serving in the army and strumming the lyre and casting the spells and, of course, being in charge of things at every level below Her Majesty – that’s often a big boys’ club.

(Lots of positions still available for women in the fields of: being the hero’s romantic interest, healing, having babies, wenching at taverns, being kidnapped, being rescued, and dying. The ideal applicant will have skills in several of these areas.)

Hopefully I don’t sound too bitter about this, because I don’t really feel that way. On an individual level, I feel like this is easy to fix once you’re aware of it, and I’m enjoying working on it in my current novel.

Thoughts (Sans Werewolves, Sadly)

. . . although, of course, now I am thinking about werewolves.

Did my booktalk at the library this past Wednesday! It went fine, although I think some of the kids were reading at maybe lower levels and not so into it. Also, I think they didn’t know what to think of me waving books at them and going on in dramatic tones about the fates of Katniss Everdeen and Artemis Fowl.*

Still have not seen the Last Airbender movie. Plan to at some point, but not during its opening week. Perhaps I will instead watch a couple of episodes of the actual show. Meantime, have a video that rehashes in just over a minute why I’m not contributing to the movie’s opening box office haul!

On a totally different note, this is a fascinating article about what might be the effects of this whole “death of traditional publishing” thing I keep hearing about, if indeed it is an upcoming death, not an over-hyped case of sniffles.

Still editing The Dogwatchers! I hope to finish within a week or two. Have I mentioned it’s long?

*separately. That would be an extremely ill-advised crossover.

Are We Not Done With This BS Yet?

From all I hear, the new Avatar: the Last Airbender movie is doing to the original series what the infamous Wizard of Earthsea movie did to the books.

In general, I’m in favor of colorblind casting, but:

  1. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t actually colorblind casting, and,
  2. I don’t believe in using colorblind casting for movies based on canon in which characters’ races (or appearances in general) are clear. Think about it – do you think the casters of the Harry Potter movies just crossed their fingers and hoped that the actor best suited to play Ron would be a redhead? Of course not.

The creators of this movie took a world with, I understand, mostly Asian characters, and cast white people for all of the heroes and a person of color ONLY FOR THE VILLAIN. (Really?) This is a shame on several levels. From the previews, the movie screams, “generic blockbuster fantasy.” I love fantasy, and I have to say that a little diversity (um, accuracy) in the casting would, even aside from being the right thing to do, have made the movie stand out. People of color as heroes in fantasy are, unfortunately, quite rare.

I don’t have a lot more to say about this – or rather, you don’t need to hear me spout off again about whitewashing – but I refer you to the comic-strip response of Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese.