Archive for April 15, 2011

Just days before the first episode of HBO’s A Game of Thrones goes to air – an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s amazing series, A Song of Ice and Fire – New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante has written a none-too-impressed review, in which she writes, among other things:

“The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”

I am, quite literally, furious. Shaking with fury, in fact. But before I go into why, allow me, if you will, the luxury of what might appear at first to be a complete non sequitur, couched in the form of the following anecdote:

I was eleven when I started high school, tall for my age, and at that point very much disinclined towards the idea of bras. I’d never liked wearing a singlet under my shirt, as my mother sometimes suggested I do; neither did I like tights, because they always fell down and you couldn’t run in them, never mind the fact that they itched. So even though I knew that I’d have to start wearing a bra – this strange, unfamiliar thing that felt lumpy and uncomfortable and embarrassing to boot – I still resisted wearing one, even though I’d started to feel self-conscious about the new prominence of my own nipples beneath my new white school shirt. Besides, at primary school the boys had laughed and teased the first girls to wear bras, pointing at the all too obvious outline beneath those older, greyer shirts. Why should high school be any different? At least I felt happy in my choice of footwear: brown riding boots rather than the usual black clogs or lace-ups, because I rode horses on the weekend and because the boots were comfortable. They felt like me.

The first week of Year 7, no one much noticed anyone else’s clothes: we were all too terrified, to awed and hyper and jostling in this strange new world, where all of a sudden our supremacy as the oldest kids in our previous schools was utterly gone, demoted back to the very lowest rung on the social ladder. But then that passed, and all of a sudden I found myself being laughed at by girls I barely even knew the names of, girls who made whinnying noises and clipped their tongues in imitation of hoof-falls when I went by, or who else ran past me deliberately to do just that, teasing me for my choice of shoes. I didn’t care – not exactly – because I wasn’t ashamed of my boots, and anyway, who cared what those girls thought? What did get to me, though, was the next lot of barbs: the girls from my grade and grades above who took it upon themselves to start calling me things like saggy tits, mocking and jeering because I didn’t wear a bra, which, unlike at primary school, was the thing that set me apart. They pointed and teased and whispered, and even though I didn’t then have breasts enough to fill even half my own hand, I felt ashamed – mortified, even – that I was going to be forced into wearing something uncomfortable just to stop strangers from making fun of me.

More than just strangers, though. Other teenagers. Girls who’d already decided the bralessness was next to freakishness, even for an eleven-year-old, despite the fact that they must have gone through something of my transition, surely? Or maybe I really was a freak, and every other girl in the world felt absolutely no self-consciousness at all about growing breasts or wearing bras. Maybe other girls looked forward to it. Whispered, giggly conversations with female classmates in primary school and daring, uninformed gossip sessions at slumber parties hadn’t prepared me for any of this: that suddenly, other girls would turn on me, not because I’d ever done anything to them, but simply because I didn’t act like they did. Because I wasn’t girl enough.

And this is why, to return to the subject of Ginia Bellafante’s remarks, I am currently fighting a fury-tremor in every finger, struggling to type cleanly. Because right now – and let me resort to pejorative, here, because honest fury bespeaks a certain rash privilege – I do not give a fuck that Bellafante knows so little about the original novels that she thinks the TV series has sexed their content up. I certainly don’t give a fuck that she’s taken the time to toss off an obviously insincere disclaimer to the effect that possibly, somewhere, women like me read books like Martin’s, nor that this very careful phrasing on her part fails to suggest that women might actually read Martin’s books themselves, and not just other, unnamed novels like them. What I do give a fuck about is her arrogant, hand-waving dismissal of the idea – so cuttingly implied, yet skirted around for the sake of precious propriety – that any real woman would want to read fantasy novels, let alone have anything to do with the whole nasty business of medieval times.

Need I make a list of female fantasy authors to sway her mind? Do I need to gesture to the internets at large, to the hundreds of thousands of girl geeks I’ve seen blogging and tweeting and fangirling and chatting and generally keying themselves up in anticipation of the start of A Game of Thrones? Ought I try and explain – to a woman who has apparently held some quite interesting views on feminism over the years, no less – the prejudicial unhelpfulness of making declarative, gender-based statements about What Women Like And Don’t Like based on nothing more than one’s own personal preferences?

I could do any of those things. I’m tempted to do all of them. But right now, the only thing I can think to say is this:

Ginia Bellafante, you are the girls who laughed at me for being a girl who wasn’t a girl like them, who mocked my breasts and made me shamed of my gender; who chased me away from femininity for more than a decade, fearful of being defeated in an arena not of my choosing but in which I had no choice but to try and compete. You are the women who called the first bluestockings slatterns. You are the blight on your own cause, the judgmental feminists who turn tomboys into self-hating misogynists and misanthropes, the irreconcilers of disparate femalehood. You and your ignorance; you sit there and wonder, why the hell would any self-respecting woman care about swords and dragons and politics instead of – what? Sex and the City? – and then chortle your guts out, no doubt, at the thought of any one hysterical reader getting herself all anted up over a TV show review. Clearly, if this is the kind of reaction such fantastic works provoke, you’ll think yourself right to steer clear of them and their devotees both, regardless of gender. But just in case any scrap of you feels shamed by this, should you read it – just on the off-chance a sliver of empathy splinters its way through your chitinous shell – know this: it was never about the show, but that you’d mock us for being what you’re not.


Come here. Shh. I’ve something to say. It’s a secret.

Ready?

Here it is: I’ve done no writing this year.

Obviously that’s not a literal statement. I’m writing now. This blog has been kept updated. I’ve emailed and edited, outlined and annotated, wordbuilt and whimsied and worked. But at no point have I sat down, opened a document and started to build something new.

This is something of a personal record, especially when you consider that this stretch of not-writing, while heavily centered in 2011, extends backwards into the previous year, when I was finalising edits on The Key to Starveldt and getting ready for our UK move. Usually, when I go this long without writing something, I start to crawl up the walls – but then, as above, it’s not that I haven’t been writing so much as that I haven’t been writing stories. Even so, it’s a new phenomenon. At one point, I was worried about writer’s block, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the case, even though my ongoing battle to reclaim my Microsoft Office CD and thereby install Word on my new computer means that I’ve been stuck using Open Office instead, a stopgap program whose peculiarities routinely make me want to stab the monitor. So yes, there’s been some reticence on that front. Call it a fussiness: I’d like to write in the program of my preference, but if I really and truly wanted to, I’d find some way to do it.

Then, too, there’s a question of hesitance: there’s so many things I want to write that the choice of which one to take up first is a little overwhelming. I used to work on parallel projects all the time, but that was before I’d ever managed to finish any of them, and though I’m confident now in my ability to stick with something I’ve started, both the profusion of viable, interesting plots I have outlined and the number of years since I attempted multiple narratives has made me wary of my reach exceeding my grasp. Even with all the free time I’ve had until recently, I was leery of using it.

But what really seems to be holding me back – and I use that phrase in the best possible sense – is other people’s opinions. So far this year, I’ve worked my way through 54 books. I’ve blogged and thought and involved myself in arguments about genre, structure, fantasy and feminism, and the whole time, I’ve been in such a whirl of inspiration that it feels like my head will explode. I’ve been questioning my own assumptions, picking up plots I’d thought were sound and tearing great, gaping holes in their logic. Old characters, set aside for lack of proper story-homes, have suddenly been raising their hands and begging for inclusion in new plots, old plots, somewhere-in-between plots, changing and twisting and reshaping themselves into new and shinier forms.

Logically, I know this state of affairs can’t last – or rather, that it shouldn’t. Sooner or later, I have to sit down and put the theory into practice, because even though it’s a good thing to aim for ongoing improvement, there’s a balance to be struck between constant alterations and actually completing a project. But until then, I’m reveling in a glorious sense of possibility: that beyond all the culture wars, I’m in a position to write the changes I want to read, rather than just lamenting their lack. And even though that’s a different sort of pressure, too – what if I get it wrong or can’t do it justice or slip up in some other way, what if what if what if –  it’s still a feeling of power, an exhilarating sense that part of me has somehow leveled up.

I hope I’m right. But the ultimate proof, as ever, will be in the product.