Today is the twelfth anniversary of 9/11 - the day the world was awakened to the depth and breadth and fervour of religious hatred. Last year in New Dehli, a woman was raped to death on a bus. Today, four of the six offenders were pronounced guilty, with prosecutors are calling for the death penalty. We shake our heads and wonder how people can live ruled by base prejudices, inhumanities and fears. For the most part, it is not the Way Things Are.
I am a writer. Small miracle, I know, but finally, I can say this with pride and a sense of accomplishment. I have three books on Amazon and one with my agent in the process of traditional publishing. The ones on Amazon are doing quite well and I must admit, I love getting reviews. I love hearing the feedback of readers, what they liked, what intrigued them, who their favourite characters were and why. Even when a review contains criticism, I make myself read it over and over, looking for the truth in the review and adjusting course accordingly. I really do appreciate constructive criticism. I am a good learner that way.
I am also lucky to never have been trolled. They’re really not the kind of books to attract trolls. I figure, if you’ve bought them, you’re interested and I will always give a reader the benefit of the doubt in every case.
“This book has an intriguing premise: A society of anthropomorphic felines based on an amalgam of Asian cultures. Throw in some human efforts at surviving some mysterious catastrophe and both tech and evolution gone awry and you should have the elements of an interesting story. And it was, for the most part. The thing that disappointed me was a story that began as a 5.8 on my fiction scale became a 3.5 by the end of the book (see my profile for an explanation of the fiction scale). The mystery and the quest and the action began to be eclipsed by the jealousies and romantic entanglements of the characters. I began to lose interest about three chapters from the end. I candidly recognize this as a gender factor. This is a female author writing about things that are thrilling to her and not so much to me. The book is well written and the culture fully realized in a marvelous display of world building. I just wish that either a) the author had stuck to the story she set out to tell at the beginning, or b) I had not been misled into expecting a story she really wasn't interested in telling.
I believe that most female fantasy readers will find this book to be exceptionally good.”
Now again, I am looking for the grain (or vein) of truth here, and in the reader’s defense, I can see that he or she was not looking for a character-driven novel, preferring action and world-shaping events, perhaps a more hard-core sci-fi realm of technology or a fantasy realm of magic. Everyone has a preference and I will not dismiss this review because it wasn’t his or her cup of tea. What I do object to is the blatant sexism and belittling of the human experience into gender stereotypes.
I am a fifty year old woman but when I write the Upper Kingdom series, I step out of myself and into Kirin’s boots, breathe deep his love of Bushido, of honour and truth and the life of a warrior that makes him bigger than just a soldier who yearns for things he cannot have. I think that rings a bell with many readers and interestingly enough, most of my readers are men. I know this because they contact me, whether by facebook or email, by website or review. Often they tell me that, in the end of TO WALK IN THE WAY OF LIONS, they cried. It’s okay. I cried too. Still do.
All my novels are high concept yet character driven, and TIGER, LION and CAT are if anything, about racism and prejudice in social systems. When I read, “This is a female author writing about things that are thrilling to her,” I bristle. Yes, the struggle for social equality is thrilling to me, but it is not a ‘female’ issue. It is a ‘human’ issue, as important to men of all cultures as well as women. I wonder if that is something that, as a civilization, we have forgotten. When I think about the woman on the bus, I wonder if it is something we have never known.
So what do I make of that review?
You see, without sounding preachy, all prejudice has its start somewhere and here, I see sexism in juvenile form. A joke, a comment, a generalization or in this case, a review. The terms, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are actually adjectives, meant to describe a noun, not be one. Used as nouns, they convey an objective perspective, as if the reader is beyond such petty things. As a zoologist, I can assure you that we use ‘male’ and ‘female’ as a scientific form of address for a specimen or a study animal. People are by chromosomes male and female, but as nouns, men and women. The terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ imply personhood. Not so, male and female.
I read a blip on the web yesterday: “An American study suggests that fans of the ‘Harry Potter’ book and film series tend to be more politically tolerant, politically active, open to diversity, less authoritarian and less likely to support of deadly force or torture.”
Written by a woman just like me, J.K. Rowling had to de-feminize her name in order to be taken seriously in this genre. Within the seven books, there were smaller, human-interest stories, containing ‘jealousies and romantic entanglements.’ Relationships made up parts of the big story, contributed to it and embellished it, but did not take away from the overarching story of Harry and his destiny. Women’s literature or Homerian epic storytelling?
There are ‘jealousies and romantic entanglements’ galore in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series but I don’t think anyone would dare to call it chick-lit.
Twelve years ago, nineteen men flew two planes into two towers, making it a terrible horror story authored by men. Does that make it a ‘male’ issue? Thousands of men and women died, hundreds of men and women risked their lives to help and the entire world was changed in its wake.
Racism, sexism. prejudice and social equality are not ‘female’ issues, nor are jealousies and romantic entanglements a woman’s domain. Male or female, we all lose if we don’t understand that we can be a better people than who we are, if we don’t reach for something a little bit higher and lift each other up in the process.
And maybe one day a woman can ride the bus in New Dehli and not be afraid.