Women

Archer’s Goon

A little while back, SFX Magazine approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in contributing to their regular “Book Club” feature. It runs at the back of every issue, focusing on a different book each time. And you know me. I like to talk about books. I particularly like to talk about books I like, and why they’re… y’know, awesome.

So of course I said yes, and the first book I’ll be discussing is ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones.

Funnily enough, it turns out this will be the 100th SFX Book Club, and given the current concern about level of representation female authors receive in the SFF world, it’s a wonderful coincidence. 100 feels like a significant number, somehow: and given the context of those two (brilliant) blogposts, it’s nice that the slot goes to a book by an outstanding fantasy writer who happens to be a woman, and whose loss is still felt so keenly by the genre.

The great thing about the Book Club is that it isn’t just me blathering on (after all, I do plenty of that here). So, if you’ve read ARCHER’S GOON, get in touch! You can comment on the book – did you love it / hate it / never read it because… – on the SFX forum, their Facebook page or via their Twitter, or you can always leave me a comment or tweet!

Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…

It was this article that got me started: reporting on research conducted by Girlguiding UK which concludes that sexism in the UK is widespread enough to impact “most aspects” of girls’ lives.

“Girls identified sexism as a priority issue for their generation”, with three-quarters saying sexism affected “most areas of their lives”, says the report.

Of the 11- to 21-year-olds questioned, some 87% thought women were judged more on their appearance than their ability.

More than a third (36%) of all those surveyed had felt “patronised or made to feel stupid” because their gender, rising to 60% of the 16- to 21-year-olds.

It got me thinking, because I started to consider my own life between those ages: I started thinking about the environment I was in, about the influences around me. These are more random thoughts than any kind of conclusion, and I wasn’t entirely sure whether to post it – but in there somewhere might be something I thought was worth saying, so.

I went to a school which was – admittedly – small and – also admittedly – private. But in that school, all three of my science teachers were women. My English teacher – also a woman – was precisely the kind of take-no-shit teacher you need to sit in front of a class of rugby-playing fifteen year old boys who have no desire to be studying poetry thankyouverymuch. We had two PE teachers: one male, one female. It goes without saying that the our female PE teacher was far more hardcore than our male teacher. Oh, and she also taught both junior Maths and Classics.

My mother never really wore make-up, and I remember being utterly stunned when, at some point in her mid-50s, I discovered she’d recently bought an eyebrow pencil. When I was little, she had a jewellery box I liked to poke around in and play with. I seem to remember finding a lipstick in there once (this would have been sometime around 1987…) that had clearly been in there since around 1970. It still had a (pre-decimal) price sticker on it, and had been used at best two or three times. It wasn’t some right-on feminist statement about make-up that she was making. It was just, y’know, that for her, she had better things to be doing with her time. I guess I inherited the attitude.

One of my uncle’s many girlfriends when I was growing up took it upon herself to buy me a make-up kit one Christmas. I think, rather like my mother’s lipstick, it got used about twice. Girlfriend Number 4 called me on it at some point the following year, asking why I wasn’t wearing any make-up. I shrugged and made the kind of sound I usually made when I was a teenager. She responded by telling me that it was “a woman’s duty to wear make-up”.

The one person who ever commented on the way I looked at school was a girl.

I’ve been in two fights. Both times, I was called a bitch. Both times… by women. (Well. I say “women”. One of them was at school. There’s a backstory, which is long and tedious and involves her getting her big brother to come into school and threaten to beat me up. She called me a bitch, I threw a chair at her. It would never have occurred to me to insult her based on her gender or her appearance. Her attitude, on the other hand, or her carefree willingness to pick a fight and then hide behind her nineteen year old brother? Yeah, totally guilty.)

My university lecturers were, certainly for my BA, mostly women. The vast majority of them held doctorates. Several of them were, at the time, either in senior lecturer or head of department posts. They terrified my male classmates – particularly when the most senior and serious of all of them took the seminar on women’s bodies in medieval religious literature…

I was born in a period with both – for better or worse – a female Prime Minister, and a Queen.

When I started university as a completely green undergrad, my department arranged for a novelist to come and give a commencement address in one of our lecture theatres. As it happens, since then that particular novelist has become the first woman to be awarded the Booker Prize twice, and continues to be one of my heroes… as she has been since that day, when she took the time to stand in a university common room and talk to said completely green undergrad about what it means to be a writer.

I used to work in a very corporate environment, for a very big company. My boss had many faults – and I can still list most of them, many years later, because that’s how crazy she drove me – but she was also capable of walking into a room full of senior investment bankers and getting them to shut the hell up every single time she spoke. And she did. The Chief Executive of that same company was also a woman. Her office was just across the floor from where I sat, and every day I saw her take meetings with – again, admittedly – mostly men. It wasn’t her hairdo that got her into that position. It was the fact that she was smart and she worked hard.

All my life, I have been surrounded by strong and capable women. Talented women. I continue to be surrounded by them, both personally and professionally. I continue to be surrounded by men, too, who both value and recognise women’s ability.

It comes back to this:

Of the 11- to 21-year-olds questioned, some 87% thought women were judged more on their appearance than their ability.

More than a third (36%) of all those surveyed had felt “patronised or made to feel stupid” because their gender, rising to 60% of the 16- to 21-year-olds.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Others may not have had the same luck, but I can only speak for myself and my own experiences. I grew up not just believing but knowing that I could be and do whatever I wanted to be, because everywhere I looked there were women who were doing and being just that, and reinforcing the idea that a woman’s place was wherever the hell she wanted. It would never have occurred to me that the world was otherwise.

(Of course, the negative here – which also needs saying – is that the times I’ve felt someone has been judging me by my appearance or based on the fact I’m a girl, it’s been other women. There’s a thing there, but it’s complicated and needs someone a lot smarter than me to articulate it without tying him or herself in knots.)

But overall, yes. I’ve been fortunate.

It would be nice to think that the generation who follow could have at least the chance to be just as lucky, wouldn’t it…?

(And yes, that blog title is me – without a hint of irony – riffing on one of Gaston’s songs from Beauty & the Beast. Well. Maybe a *bit* of irony…)

Goody Two-Shoes

shoes

Walk a mile in their shoes.

If the shoe fits.

Dead men’s shoes.

… We have a bit of a thing about shoes and identity, culturally speaking, don’t we?

 

That’s two pairs of my shoes in the photo. One is a vertiginous pair of gold heels which have shed so much glitter about the house as I’ve been breaking them in that it looks like Tinkerbell detonated in a fit of rage.

The other is one of my (many) pairs of Converse, all of which have been through the wars a little because they get worn so much. You should see the green ones. Talk about scruffy.

Anyway. I am fortunate enough to live in a time and a place where I can choose either of these pairs of shoes. No-one will bat an eyelid if I wear the heels (although they may have to catch me when I inevitably fall over) and neither will anyone so much as flinch if I wear the trainers. This is a wonderful thing, and a freedom that many women still don’t have. I’m also fortunate enough to be in a position to own several pairs of completely impractical shoes – again, something that we take for granted.

I am – theoretically, at least – a grown up. I used to wear heels to work back in The Dark Days When I Was Corporate (we do not speak of those times). I own dresses. I own a woman’s tux jacket, a proper white shirt and a pair of grown-up black trousers. So why do I feel like a fraud in those gold shoes? Why do I feel like a kid who’s been rummaging around somebody else’s wardrobe?

It may be that I clomp around like an ostrich on drugs in them. Possibly. Long gone are the days when I could run for a bus in my heels (mind you, long gone also are the days of pulling my hair out trying to produce statistical reports for clients and the time that I got pushed off the platform of a Routemaster bus into traffic in Hackney. Oddly, I don’t actually think I was wearing heels on that particular day. That would’ve explained a lot…). Now, breaking these shoes in, I’ve been stalking about the kitchen looking like nothing so much as a sleepwalking camel. These things add to the comedy value of me in heels, but I carry the comedy with me wherever I go, alas.

So if it’s not that, what is it?

I had been planning to wear the gold shoes to the book launch tomorrow night… but quite apart from the looming spectre of tripping over my own feet in them and faceplanting in a cloud of fairy-ash, I decided against it. I put them on and suddenly I don’t feel like me any more – particularly not when they’re paired with a dress. I feel like not only am I a kid dressing up in someone else’s clothes, I’m a kid dressing up in someone else’s clothes who’s about to get found out.

I guess I’m not a heels kind of girl. I know they’re out there: I went to university with one, and my agent Juliet is another. They can work the heels.

In my case, the heels work me. And by “work”, I mean it very much in the East End, Kray Brothers, crowbar sense of the word.

My blue Converse squeak when I walk. One of the laces keeps untying itself, meaning I have to double-knot it like a demented toddler’s shoes. The tongues always scrunch themselves sideways and won’t lie flat. They are not elegant or graceful, and they make my already generously-sized feet look enormous. But I feel like myself in them. Awkward and dishevelled and squeaky and prone to putting my foot in it… but at least I don’t have to worry about being found out.

You only have to look at my shoes to know who I am.

Guess which ones I’ll be wearing tomorrow.

Blinded by (sparkling) science

Stephanie Kwolek. Sophie Germain. Gillian Bates. Lise Meitner.

Marie-fucking-Curie.

And this is how we’re planning to attract young women into the field of science?

I wasn’t that keen on science at school. My little heart sank at the prospect of double chemistry, almost as much as it did before PE. I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be, and – to be honest – that frustrated me. I also found it boring.

However, it bored me because I wanted to be in English class, reading Faustus or Hamlet (true).

Saying I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be was not because I’m a girl and am therefore only interested in lipstick and poncing round in a pair of sunglasses: it’s because I’m Thicky McThick when it comes to science and I still can’t do a simple titration or explain how a blast furnace works*. I can, however, quote you chunks of Shakespeare and Marlowe, and tell you exactly why they have the effect on us that they do. I can read Anglo Saxon, I can give you a detailed (and mind-numbingly dull) description of the differences between the Insular and Continental traditions of early Arthurian literature.

I did not need a pink-tinted video to entice me into this.

Neither did the women whose names I’ve given above.

Like me, they chose to study and work in the fields which interested them; the fields in which they felt their talents lay. I chose arts and humanities, they chose sciences. End of debate. Boys do it too, but apparently we don’t need to try and entice them to become doctors by showing a bunch of consultants knocking back the beers or playing football, do we? And yes, that’s just as mindless a stereotype as the one in the video.

My younger cousin is about to go to university, hoping to study genetics. She spends her free time shopping with her friends and (if her Facebook page is anything to go by) making innuendo-laden comments about Justin Bieber. She goes to parties. She has an unhealthy obsession with Primark. She’s also an Air Cadet. She’s probably one of the coolest people I know, and I imagine if you asked whether her choice of future career had been influenced by that video, she would laugh at you.

And then punch you. (Because we do share some genes, after all…)

We don’t need to Barbie-ise science to get girls interested.

We don’t need to pinkify it, sprinkle it with unicorns and glitter, or insist that yes, women in science can wear heels zomgwtfkthnxbai.

We just need to tell them that they can do anything they put their minds to.

Because they can.

Marie Curie.
Scientist; woman.

*Incidentally, my physics, chemistry and biology teachers were all women…

Rookie

I just discovered the amazing thing that is Rookie Magazine. A website aimed at teenage girls, it makes me wish broadband had been around when I was somewhat younger.

Streets ahead of the progression through Smash Hits, Just 17 and NME (look, we all know I wasn’t really a girly-girl. OK?) which was so central to my own early adolescence, Rookie features articles for teens, by teens. Updated three times a day, its topics range from Live Through This to Eye Candy via a pretty impressive Books & Comics section.

Each month, articles are themed: next month’s is “power”.

Please send any photos, articles, illustrations, or anything else you might’ve made related to power (duh), strength, weakness, relationship dynamics, politics and activism, and, on the aesthetic side, ’80s goths, New Romantics, or a John Hughes prom…

And even though I’m far, far too old to be in their core demographic, I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse

I mentioned briefly before that I’ve been recruited by the amazing Adele, who runs Un:Bound (when she’s not kicking seven bells out of her kickboxing training buddies or generally taking over the world…) as one of the Apocalypse Girls.

We do cheery things like discuss how to survive an undead apocalypse, how to fight zombies, where you should shelter when the Bomb drops, what weapon goes best with a clutch bag, fashion for Fall / nuclear winter…. all those things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Well, now you can ask us.

This week on the Guide, it’s movie week. So as well as talking about how to grow your own food (provided it’s not brains), we’re posting some of our favourite apocalypse movies.

I’ve just posted two of mine: The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, so if you head on over to the blog, you can join in and tell us what you think of these particular apocalypses. Apocalypsi. Apocalypso.

Whatever.

Linkpunk

There’s a bunch of odds, sods and general bits & bobs I need to tidy up, I suspect.

Several are here.

The Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse anthology is now available to buy. Go here (UK Kindle edition) or here (US Kindle edition) for all your end-of-the-world needs. There are some seriously awesome stories in there. And there’s mine, too.

Next.

Solaris have put out a press release with a few more details about “Blood & Feathers”, and said some very lovely things indeed. This makes me happy and not a little nervous. But basically, if you’ve ever wondered what Alice in Wonderland would be like if it was set in Hell, I think it’s fair to say you’re in safe hands here. Or possibly insane ones.

Finally (somewhat fittingly) I’ve been recruited by the Apocalypse Girls, so expect to see me popping up on the site every once in a while, along with some fabulous ladies offering their practical tips for surviving mass annihilation. Just because it’s the end of the world, it doesn’t have to mean we can’t handle it with grace, poise, and a truckload of attitude.

Welcome to The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse.

Over the next few months a collective of experts will be posting their top tips for survival of all kinds of apocalypse, large or small. There will be alternative takes on the best way to tackle zombies, what shoes work in the next ice age, weapons selection, care and maintenance and every thing else the modern girl needs in the end of the world.

Be ready for Zombies, Werewolves, Hell literally freezing over, Skynet and the worst hair day ever.

Lock and Load ladies, the end of the world is coming.

Moar Wimmin

Comics. Women. Again.

I promise this’ll be the last time I beat this drum for, ooh, at least a week. Honest. Well, honest-ish.

Anyone spot that article in the Guardian about DC and female comics-creators? What does this tell us that we don’t already know? The really fascinating part is the article tucked away on the CBR site, with the audio of the exchange between a fan attending SDCC & Dan DiDio. What I love here is the comments, where everyone is chipping in with names of women DC should hire… big lists of big names.

I’m particularly gratified, too, to see a mention for Womanthology on there (you’ll remember me mentioning that a little while back. If you want to become one of the backers, there’s still time – but not much. They’ve more than reached their target and are now hoping to get enough copies printed to get them into libraries and schools across the US. It’s money well spent).

And, seeing as we’re on the subject, now seems as good a time as any to congratulate the amazing Lauren Beukes, award-strewn author & sloth-wearer extraordinaire, who will write for the Fables spin-off, Fairest. Highly, highly awesome. If it’s anything like her prose, it may just turn out to be the fairest comic of them all.

You see what I did there? Yep. Sorry about that. Still: go Lauren, right?

“Womanthology” all-female comics anthology

I saw this mentioned on Twitter this morning: an anthology “showcasing the works of women in comics. It is created entirely by over 140 women of all experience levels, including top industry professionals.”

The Graphic Novel will majorly consist of many short stories interpreting our theme for this volume; “Heroic”. We’ll also have interviews and how-to’s with some of the industry’s top female pros, as well as talks with young girls who someday want a career in comics.

As I’ve banged on in the past about women in the comics industry, this seems like a perfect opportunity to do something about it. So I’ve backed it. And you should too.

The full list of contributors can be found here.

There’s more information on the website here, and you can get involved in funding it on the Kickstarter site. You can pledge anything from $1… so please, please do. The backing page went live yesterday, and as of this lunchtime, they’re already 65% funded.

So get involved, support the anthology and show the world just what women in comics can really do.

“Swords & Mutton”

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.

Well done to the New York Times, and most particularly to Ginia Bellafante, who have between them managed to insult and – not to put too fine a point on it, anger – lots and lots of ladies with their review of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones.

A review is, of course, an opinion – and everyone is entitled to one. However, there’s a line between a genuine and honest opinion, and emptying the scorn-bucket:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

Thank goodness, then, for the fantastic response to this review posted on the Geek with Curves site – a response which manages to be entirely fair at the same time as being beautifully snarky when I would have exploded into violently pink femrage. And, for extra added bonus points, it manages to create a whole new genre: sword ‘n’mutton.

The series is hardly “boy fiction.” Where does this phrase come from?  Is it automatically for boys because there are swords and mutton?

So, NYT. You want to tell us we can’t like epics? You seriously want to say that women don’t care about fantasy – or the stories the genre gives authors scope to tell? That we’re only interested in this sort of thing if there’s a bit of shagging in it? Really?

Put it this way- in which woman’s company would you rather pass a few spare hours: one who’s read, followed, inwardly digested and understood the sprawl of stories like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Fire & Ice… or one whose favourite film was “Sex & the City 2“?

Thought so.