Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Women vs. Men in a Battle Royale

About two years ago, when I first started returning to the worlds of fantasy and SF, I picked up a book called the Wraethu trilogy by Storm Constantine. It’s a fun book about the next evolutionary step in humanity, with mankind stepping towards a life form not too unlike vampires, but without all the fangs and stereotypical baggage. But I think what really impressed me was the sense of character and language brought to the page. Much of it seemed as if written by a woman. The imagery, the ways the characters related to each other, even the very language had a "female sense" about it. I even remember talking about it with my girlfriend, at how impressed I was that a man could write that way.

Eventually, of course, I became disappointed. When I finally bothered to look up info on Constantine I found that he is a she, and that she picked the name “Storm” to be able to sell in the male-dominated field of fantasy fiction. After the success of her first couple of novels, she stuck with the name and hasn't looked back.

If you were to pin me down and ask specifically what made me think of the work as feminine, I’d have a big problem doing that beyond what I already wrote above.

Why is this all on my mind? Well, it seems to keep popping up. While at the reading for Grace and Gravity (see my post Laughs Between the Lines back in October) editor Richard Peabody stated that he holds no intentions for a version on male writers of D.C. because he already knew what they would have to say. Okay, I begrudgingly thought, I guess I can understand that. At the Samuel Delany reading, he cited the feminist trends in SF as being the most interesting and groundbreaking out of the current crop of writers. There was also an article in the most recent issue of Writer's Chronicle that discussed the growing superiority of women over men writing. Back in high school the idea of reading work by women never really entered my head, but nowadays I do find myself sometimes seeking it out for a different perspective. Even now in the new issue of Gargoyle I'm finding the work by women more interesting, provocative and evocative than the work by men.

I'm also probably questioning this because the story I'm currently working on is from a female point-of-view, and I'm consistently having doubts that I'm doing it justice. On the rare occassions I've tried it before, no-one's ever picked apart my representation of women, but I always worried about it. If I'm able to tap into some buried sense of female-ness maybe I can pull it off in a piece of short fiction. But I still don't really know what that means. But perhaps I'm being too specific, trying to find one or more characteristics that define writing by women. After all, women are as different from each other as men are from other men. There indeed may be no real answer.

In her interview with Cemetery Dance, Nancy Holder was asked the big question about men vs. women's fiction. Her response is one of the better I've seen with "I honestly think we're better at characterization, but if so, not by much". Still pretty nebulous, but probably the closest thing to the truth.



LadyLitBlitzin said...

How sad, that Storm Constantine had to do what she did to make it in a male-oriented world. Kind of like, wasn't it George Eliot, in the classics? Maybe the Brontes did publish with male pseudonyms at first, too, or maybe I'm imagining that. You think of them, and Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen, and it's amazing that they made it.

Truth be known, though, I took a class on "forgotten" Victorian women writers, and those books... there was a good reason they were forgotten, quite honestly.

At any rate, though, here lately I have definitely noticed a quality in short fiction by women that I find a lot better than the men's in many cases, no offense to men. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, though. I'm not sure it is characterization, as you say Holder said.

A male writer friend of mine has pulled off writing from a female point of view. He did an amazingly admirable job, and did get the story accepted. When I read it, and gave him feedback before he sent it out, and he was happy when I said it was a GREAT portrayal of female POV, other than one correction I made about bras (ha), which he was like, "I would never have known that." Ha.

Good luck! As I've said, I only have one story written from male POV. But the character is pretty simple, really.

Hebdomeros said...

Good or bad, I didn't start noticing it until recently. Not to say I'm not seeing men doing interesting things, but there it seems like there are more women doing interesting things than men now.

It's unfortunate women had to (and may still) publish under male pen-names. Even male dominated areas like SF are finally cracking open to let women in.

Thanks for the encouragement. I'm sure I'll post how it comes out, good or bad.

LadyLitBlitzin said...

Yes, I've definitely seen men create some good stuff recently but I too have noticed the change. There was a time when I just wasn't wholly impressed with a lot of female writers, despite the fact that I'm female myself. ;)

T. R. Hummer said...

I just noticed your comments about Michael Bugeja's piece in Writer's Chronicle, and just want to note that I'm rather grossly misquoted in your blog. With all due respect, I never said a word about viruses or trojans and never said I automatically delete messages with attachments. Neither did I say anything about the relative quality of print submissions and electronic ones. My worries are more about the ethics of the profession: the commodification of texts as electronically mass-produces artificts, and the erosion of the writer/editor relationship.

Still, I like your blog and am glad you noticed Bugeja's piece.

Just a friendly quibble.

Best, T. R. Hummer

Hebdomeros said...

Mr. Hummer,

I apologize if you feel misrepresented. I looked at the article again, and you are, of course, correct. The ideas of trojans, etc was an inference made after your comments. I'm sorry for attributing them to you directly.

Thank you for clarifying, and best you as well.