Monday, January 27, 2014

Why are sexist books best sellers?

Women in novels:
How I see them.
Yes, I've injected some gross hyperbole into that title.  I don't like throwing around terms like "sexism," since I think the term's been overused to the point where it's almost meaningless (like the term "fascist" just means anyone who doesn't agree with you online).

However, these are some books that hit it really fricking big in the last few years, and that still confound friends of mine with their popularity, and even with their very existence.  This might count as a rant, but, damn it, some of these things are stupid. And wrong.

Now, keep in mind, I haven't read any of these books, but I've been told about them, researched them a little, and every stupid little thing I've seen has amounted to one great big question: Who the Hell is reading these books and why?

If you remember the "Strong Female Character" blog, you can see this as a bit of a sequel.  We've gone from fully fleshed out, well-developed, kick-ass women .... to this.  Books that treat women like crap, and they're made into bestsellers.... by women!

Twilight .... Where do you start with Twilight? Maybe over at RM Hendershot's blog, where she discusses how the main characters have little to no personality, and there's almost no plot at all.

Maybe with my friend Annie (wife of my co-author from Codename: Winterborn) noting that "Vampires are going crazy over blood from a paper cut. why aren't they going insane every time the heroine has her period? Have we forgotten that teenage girls have periods?"  Or, another of her sayings, "Vampires don't sparkle! They immolate!"

Another quarter is an online fellow named "The Nostalgia Critic" on YouTube, who sums up Bella Swan like this .... (WARNING: R-rated language ahead.)

I think Twilight was summed up for me in a matter of minutes when I tripped over the movie played on cable. Two characters were in a diner, and the vampire explained to our hapless nimrod (named "Bella") that he could read the mind of every person in the diner except for her.
Bella: "What's wrong with me?"
Vampire: "I tell you I can read minds, and you ask what's wrong with you."
That's it. Twilight, summed up by its own content.

A friend of mine on Facebook once asked how the last book/movie ended for Twilight.  I had been told through another acquaintance, so I informed her.  My friend replied: "Stop making fun of me."  I kid you not. She didn't know I was being deadly serious.

After decades of women's equality (I'm Irish, our women have been ass-kickers even in our mythology), going from Equal Pay for Equal Work, to Rosie the Codebreaker (the codebreakers from World War II who would staff the NSA) to every strong female character on television, to .... Bella Swan?  And teenage girls are even allowed to read this garbage?  And adult women buy these books in droves?

When did we fall off the merry-go-round? [Answer below the break]

Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.  This is the one where the post title is almost certainly hyperbolic.  I don't know an awful lot about this one, but every time I hear something about it, I'm turned off even further. Yes, it's about a rebellious young female computer hacker and a journalist looking at underground sex clubs... Yeah, you see that last part? That's where you lost me.

Then I'm told, "Oh, but the writing, it's sooooo good.  There was this really well done rape scene that was a chapter long and --"

Wait? A what?  Who writes a rape scene for a whole chapter? Is it just me, or it that a form of sadism on the part of the writer, and masochism on the part of the reader who puts up with it?

If you're not exactly following my line of thought on this, well, let me elaborate.  I don't care how "well done" a rape scene is written, RAPE IS NOT A FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT. EVER, IN ANY CONTEXT.

Mayhaps I should back up a bit? I have, in my life "collected" rape victims -- meaning that I have encountered people who have informed me with stories of being raped. Notice I said "people," there are two guys in this list. This list is at ten people.  Imagine that, would you? Listening to the guy who was assaulted with a broom handle, the girl who was kidnapped on California by an online associate, the one who was gang raped, the two who were date-raped, or the three who were molested by relatives...

I don't care how well the story's told. I'm not going to find rape and underground sex clubs entertaining.

50 Shades of Grey -- While I have no read this one, I have heard audio clips of people reading from it. The point of the audio clips is to show exactly how bad the book is written.

Premise: a bored housewife signs a contract to enter into a dominant-submissive relationship with a billionaire.  There is sex..... The end.

The truly bewildering part of this is the audience for 50SoG -- women.  There's a reason this is referred to as "mommy porn."  So, in 100 years, we've gone from Equal Pay for Equal Work to "tie me down, spank me, treat me like a slave"?

Really? Really?  How about no. Just no.

Now, before you ask, no, I'm not necessarily against all sex in novels ... just make sure sex is used in a context where it adds to the story.  However, when sex is the story .... why bother buying it? It's called porn, and easily accessible online...

No, I'm sorry, it's called "erotica," also easily available online.  Don't believe me? Even I can find some websites that can cater to every taste on the planet, from romance to bondage, to fantasies over your favorite celebrities, and some of them STILL have better characterization and plot than this lousy novel.

It's porn. And on top of that, it's lousy porn.  "Good" porn you can at least laught at. Hell, nowadays, porn parodies have as much content as the source material.  50 Shades is just awful.

And yet, in print on demand publishing (pre-"brick and mortar publisher"), this book sold a quarter of a million copies.  For those of you who prefer numerals, that's 250,000 books sold, with at least a million dollars of profit.  Shoot. Me. Now.

I think the last word on the subject came from a story told by an agent acquaintance of mine on Facebook. Usually referring to it as "Fifty shades of poop," one of the authors she represents is quoted as saying "I could eat alphabet soup and defecate a better novel."

And yet, at the end of the day, we've got sites like the NewStatesman whining about how female characters like Buffy aren't really developed characters, they're merely "strong."

Well here's the other end of the spectrum.  And between a one-dimensional character like Bella Swan, or books like 50Shades, I'll take a two dimensional Xena, or a comic book Black Widow any day of the week.


  1. The idea of 'strong female characters' went to heck the moment it started to mean a woman who let the feminist movement extremists do all their thinking for her.

    I reject feminism and I reserve the right to think for myself and to write female characters that can do the same. Which I guess makes me eternally unpublishable.

  2. I used to think I was a feminist. I still am, I suppose, but of the equal pay for equal work school of feminism. Which means, like most other things, i'm still 100 years out of date. I guess I should be glad I'm caught up to Vatican II, and that was 20 years before I was born.

  3. Oh, my. You know how to get my Irish-by-proxy up! I have a theory about where all this limp wristed womanhood comes from. I might have to write a blog post about it and get all controversial and stuff. :) Yes, I love me a Xena character or three. They are fun. What upsets me is that this writer fails to notice are *other* female characters IN BUFFY (and Xena, even!) who are better, uh, developed. So using Buffy as an example seems like proof they never watched the show.

    So, my theory is this. Women, like men, have a range of behavior that they are most comfortable with. Painted with sloppy broad strokes we call it a stereotype. With flex, nuance and natural contours it's a female character. I believe these "women of kleenex" are the unintended product of the feminist movement-- for the same reason a guy wants a cigarette after a lot of intense exertion. Being superwoman is outside a woman's natural comfort zone. It's a subconscious backlash after trying to rewrite the female psyche.

    This is why we don't have billions of female scientists. Yes, Virginia, I know there women scientists (see ref: friends of mine) and we should be if we want. But it's an acquired taste for us, let's say. It's about time somebody admitted this in public without the bonobos going bananas.

    Women have discovered that being dom isn't always sexy. They have... NEEDS. And being in charge all. the. time. doesn't get that itch scratched. I suppose I could go into allusions of being slave to sin...
    But this is also why women frequently make bad choices in the love direction. The Good Men can't be MEN anymore, so it's up to the bad boys to take up the slack. Unfortunately, those same bad boys are called bad boys for a reason. God help us.

    Been there, done that, burned the t shirt. I want my mantilla back...

    Women have forgotten that the Bad Old Days [tm] were designed by women for women, and not just "for other women". Ironically the conventions that everybody finds so stifling about the Victorian era were the from that generation's wave of the feminist movement.

    Also, why isn't -- giving birth -- considered a contribution anymore? I mean, making history is man's second rate door prize for not making the future.


Please, by all means, leave a message below. I welcome any and all comments. However, language that could not make it to network television will result in your comment being deleted. I don';t like saying it, but prior events have shown me that I need to. Thanks.