Links: Saturday, February 22nd

February 22, 2014 Links 22

A fluffy grey cat walks across a green tile roof that has snow on it. The melting snow gives way and the cat goes sledding down the roof.It’s been that kind of week.

  • Why Is Lesbian Romance So Unpopular When Compared to Gay or Straight Romance? – Author E.E. Ottoman takes on the popularity, or lack thereof, of f/f compared to m/m and I’m not sure I agree with all of it. I do think f/f’s lack of a character straight women can objectify sexually is a big part of why it doesn’t sell to straight women, and I think Merrian’s idea of “escape into privilege” is at play. m/m gives you two men whose male privilege you can try on, and I remember lots of complaints about women in m/m all being awful.

    Lesbian or other queer women on the other hand, along with any and all trans* people and QPOC, are still threatening to heteronormativity. These unacceptable forms of queerness are just not as easy or comfortable for a large part of a wider Western audience to consume.

    I think that, coupled with a lot of the internalized anxiety and shame women feel about female bodies and female desires, makes lesbian romance or romances that depict queer women significantly less popular.

  • Fallout – Natalie has been a major pivot point in a recent blowup involving SFWA, and she talks about the ways people have tried to silence and marginalize her by calling her a “nobody” and demanding to see her credentials.

    One thing that’s happened to me is the the intimation that since I am relatively unknown that I have no standing to speak about these issues. The thing is this: everyone has to start somewhere and the insistence on credentials is a way to suppress voices. I haven’t been getting a lot of push back, but what I have gotten has centered on this fact and a fair bit of the overall commentary generally doesn’t even acknowledge that this is a site run by one person (those of you who have acknowledged that: thank you).

    The thing is this: the whole conversation isn’t just about one disgruntled man’s long held grudge against Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about a culture which has systematically privileged the voices of a subset of the population over all the other voices.

  • Credentialism and the internet – Sunita was involved in a completely different happening (one involving math, statistics and comments longer than her blog post) then witnessed yet another (last week was bonkers) where self-professed experts either tore down an argument based on the arguer’s credentials or lorded their own like it was a “win the argument” card. Here’s hoping next week has less ‘splaining.

    Credentials don’t give a stupid comment greater credibility, they just make its existence more surprising. Say I’d made a similarly off-base and misguided comment about race, ethnicity, or class, and then, when called on it, asserted my credentials. Would that make you believe me? No, because I’m still hung out to dry by my own words. That’s one of the things I really like about the online world: your words are your most valuable currency, and your use determines their value.

  • Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? 85 Years of the Academy Awards – Lee and Low runs the disheartening numbers on the Oscars, then talks to filmmakers about the state of the industry.

    Since the Academy Awards was founded 85-years ago:

    Only one woman of color (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Actress
    Only six men of color (7%) have ever won the Academy Award for Best Actor
    Only one woman (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director

    An interview with independent filmmakers helps give a glimpse of the current climate of Hollywood today.

  • A lost city reveals the grandeur of medieval African civilization – I admittedly know very little about pre-colonial Africa, but this seemed like a cool article about an East African city-state I’d never heard of before.

    Throughout the Middle Ages, great civilizations ringed the Indian Ocean. From Egypt, people could travel the Red Sea to reach the ocean, then sail south to Africa, or continue east to the Arab world and India. Then, of course, one could travel over land on the famous Silk Road from India through central Asia and into China. In reality, few people ever made that journey. But many trade goods did, passed from hand to hand in cosmopolitan cities whose cultural diversity would have made places like New York and Sao Paolo look like monocultures. Among those great medieval cities were places like Songo Mnara, a gorgeous and bustling Swahili city built on an island off the coast of Tanzania in the fourteenth century.

    At a time when European cities were getting wiped out by plagues and famines, Songo Mnara was thriving.

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An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

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22 Responses to “Links: Saturday, February 22nd”

  1. Meoskop

    Love the Songo Mnara link today. The whole wonder why they built it rapidly thing makes me wonder if future people will say that about a housing development or outlet mall sites.

  2. Roslyn Holcomb

    I’ve been planning a medieval African story, though mine was to be in Mali. I think I’ll still do the Malian one, but Songo Mnara is intriguing as well.

    As for f/f stories, I think you’re dead on in regard to the objectification and even the fetishistic aspects of m/m stories. Frankly if you’re a heterosexual female there’s really nothing in a f/f story for you, at least not sexually.

  3. cleo

    Thanks for the link on f/f. That’s something I’ve been pondering since I started reading mm a couple years ago and realized ff isn’t as common or popular. As a bi woman, I don’t think I can ever completely understand a straight woman’s reaction to ff, but it’s interesting to me.

    Your comment about trying on privilege clarified something for me. I was initially was quite skeptical of mm, but when I tried it, it was such a relief to read a romance between two people without having to deal with all the stereotypes about women’s sexuality (relating to the h/h that is – there is tons of misogyny re supporting women chars in a lot, but not all, mm). In one of the first mm books I read, the h/h had sex in an ambulance in a deserted parking garage a few hours after meeting. There was no slut shaming, there was no remorse or angst about it. And I wasn’t worried about either hero’s safety. And that, I think, is the privilege I was trying on – it was nice to be able to experience that type of sexual freedom. And I don’t think that’s available reading ff.

  4. cleo

    One more thought. I think one of the appeals of ff to straight women could be reading a romance without some of the problematic power dynamics and limiting gender roles in mf (I know there’s limiting gender roles in ff and mm too) – but you can get that in mm too and that comes with hawt men. But, I do think that for romance readers tired of assholes in their romance, f/f could offer a viable alternative – there’s just not much of it right now and some of it is pretty bad.

  5. Jill Sorenson

    I think of m/m as the anti-placeholder. There’s no woman to identify with–or judge. Any negative feelings we have about our bodies and other women (which are perfectly natural) are absent or channeled into unpleasant female characters readers can love to hate.

    Not that all m/m feeds into this. I know there are some positive female characters in m/m. But it reminds me of a post by some guy about male privilege and why it feels good. He said it feels good to be shitty to women, to feel powerful and big. That’s why men do it, and probably why women do it to each other.

    I’m not sure why f/f doesn’t offer the same freedom from gender roles, slut-shaming, remorse or angst. Can’t two women hook up in the back of an ambulance without fear or regret? The characters can act without shame, but they can’t escape the female reader’s shame (if she feels it).

  6. nu

    Who’s Sunita responding to? Re: L&L’s interview, since diversity improves TV ratings, I think we’ll see more “ethnic” actors. I was more annoyed that Kelvin Yu said that 90s Black films were all hip hop and gang related. Um, Best Man Holiday is a sequel! Waiting to Exhale, Stella’s groove, etc. Also, _these_ movies (and shows like Being Mary Jane) are targeting the upper class, Tyler Perry is not.

    And yeah, I agree internalized misogyny and self-image issues play a role in m/m reading, as well as fetishization of gay men and of course the hot-menz! aspect. Kind of infuriating that romance is considered schmaltzy and unworthy until you add more men… Masculinity, the holy standard.

  7. Ridley

    @nu: Sunita is reacting to the discussion surrounding her post on Dear Author about Hugh Howey’s self-publishing report and a white woman on Twitter who was lecturing a bunch of not-white women on Twitter about racism.

    Last week was full of WTFery.

  8. Laura Vivanco

    @Jill Sorenson:

    I think of m/m as the anti-placeholder. There’s no woman to identify with–or judge. Any negative feelings we have about our bodies and other women (which are perfectly natural) are absent or channeled into unpleasant female characters readers can love to hate.

    What do you mean by “perfectly natural”? Do you mean we all have them as a result of nature, or do you mean “perfectly understandable given the social pressures that surround us”?

    I suppose I must be an outlier in my response to this (a) given how popular m/m seems to be with many women and (b) because I don’t generally have negative feelings about my body or those of other women. However, when I read someone’s archive of m/m stories, there was a cumulative effect which made me feel my type of body is less attractive than that of a man, perhaps even a bit repellant, and that felt really weird because I’ve never really had any negative feelings about my body before.

  9. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    How is a lesbian couple avoiding heteronormativity but a gay male couple not? And I question highly whether a male couple is considered more “acceptable” than a female couple. And she has clearly not spoken to many gay men if she thinks gay men’s bodies are not subject to policing – and she is outright being offensive by suggesting gay male sexuality is regarded as “positive” or “normal”

    And the idea of a gay male identity that is non-threatening to heterosexuality? Bullshit. There is nothing you can do as a gay man, no way you can live as a gay man, and not face societal condemnation. To say that being a comedic GBF lets you play bit roles on TV is somehow a sign of acceptance is so shallow and awful I can’t even begin to address it – that’s like saying the Black criminal or angry, sassy Black woman repeatedly being portrayed shows acceptance of Black people.

    This woman is trying to create a lot of excuses, completely dismissing homophobia against gay men in an extremely offensive fashion so she can ignore the elephant in the room: m/m romance is straight women fetishising gay men. The objectification of gay men as sex toys by straight women is why there are far more m/m romances out there

    That article is one of the most offensive things I’ve read about the m/m genre – and that is saying something

    I’ll put her books down as yet another load of offensive nastiness written by non-gay men using us as tools and toys but with zero respect for us as people

  10. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    Also “trying on privileged” – privilege isn’t just about gender, it’s about sexuality. Discarding all the stereotypes about female sexuality but deciding all the stereotypes about gay male sexuality are just not an issue is just more privilege raising its head

  11. Jill Sorenson

    @Laura Vivanco: Perfectly understandable is what I meant. It might be natural to have negative or competitive feelings towards other women. Body issues are something else. I think it’s telling that 10% of women have never had an orgasm, with a partner or alone. The problem could be shame, nature, ignorance etc. but it seems to me there are far more issues and hangups associated with female sexuality vs. male.

  12. Meoskop

    I completely agree with @Fangs4Fantasy here.

    Jill – I think it’s easy to say, as women, oh female sexuality is so complex but we may just be more vocal. Women are rewarded for being non sexual, sure. But male sexuality is simply less discussed. Men who don’t conform are under an intense pressure to simply present as though they comply with societal norm. I hesitate to say women hold more hangups.

    In fact, I’m thinking of a local DJ who admitted he didn’t really care for sex – he was immediately shut down. It was obvious he was sincere, but any conversation about that was rerouted into convention. This wasn’t a shock jock style show either.

  13. nu

    @Ridley: Thank you! Sunita’s is an excellent analysis; she’s did the blogosphere a service.

    @meoskop: While men may be punished for presenting a sexuality outside norms, I don’t believe that that’s comparable to the uncharted or hostile territory of women’s sexuality, considering that not long ago, women were considered asexual “angels of the home” and morality, even societal harmony, is still connected to controlling women’s sexuality. It’s encouraged for men to explore their sexuality from a very early age and accepted that they are sexual creatures, and even if their preferences are unusual, they seem to get some ribbing at most, they aren’t punished with sexual assault (unless, again, they are gay.)

    @Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy): body-policing, c’mon, society is oriented around policing women’s bodies. There are _billion dollar industries_ around it. It’s reinforced again and again in the media. It is tied much more closely with morality, sexuality, and status for women.

  14. Meoskop

    @nu Well which women are we talking about? I would argue that only white women of a certain class were considered in the manner you describe. It certainly doesn’t fit the majority history of women in my family, either in how they presented or how they were treated.

    As for men, if you consider exploring their sexuality to be limited to being hetro attracted to multiple partners, then ok. But men who are not interested in that narrative are not invited to explore their sexuality, they are invited to explore the sexuality others have prescribed for them. Men are forced into seeing themselves in very narrow ways to uphold the social scripts. Many men have spoken about being forced into sex before they were ready, being told their worth was tied to the number of partners they could command (regardless of their desires), mocked for wishing to limit physical connections to emotionally important ones, etc.

    I think the control and policing of male / female sexuality is different but not a greater burden on one than the other.

  15. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    @Nu AND there is a whole lot of body policing and presentation policing that applies to gay men that just don’t reach the same level of attention

    And when talking about m/m we’re talking about men who are INHERENTLY sexually outside the norm – and emotionally and romantically and it’s deeply insulting and dismissive for both the original poster and several commentors here to ignore that. There’s a comment about about the safety of having 2 men have sex in an ambulance – ignoring how gay men are stalked by police in a systematic persecution, how gay hookup areas are used as hunting grounds not just for police but by violent homophobes and muggers as easy targets who won’t be able to go to the authorities. Or that there’s no shaming of gay men for being promiscuous when gay sex is blamed for a world wide plague! The respectability policing, the government and religious officials who are happy to say in pulpits and parliaments that gay men are INCAPABLE of monogamy – but there’s no shaming for gay men having casual sex? Really?

    You’re not just talking male/female sexuality but also gay sexuality which adds a whole different level. Which makes the whole “unless, of course, they’re gay” in this context because that is a foundation here

    This I the problem with m/m – it uses us as objects without the slightest clue of (or interest in) the issues, pressures and realities of our lives

  16. Jill Sorenson

    @Meoskop: Women are more vocal where, besides romanceland or maybe twitter? Male sexuality is the default setting in a male dominated society. People say penis on tv way more often than vagina (I just looked it up). When 10-15% of women have never had an orgasm (I can’t even find a stat for men because this is not a problem they seem to have), how can we not call that a major imbalance?

    Trigger warning.

    Women and girls are raped and sexually abused at a far greater frequency than men. Of course that affects female sexuality in every male dominated society. So every place on earth, pretty much.

    End TW

    Women also give birth and breastfeed (many of us) and that can affect sexuality. This is definitely not a problem men have.

    I wouldn’t ever say that gay men don’t face discrimination, but the issue here is male body vs. female body. The first is the default norm and valued more. I believe that is the point the author was making. You only need to look for a thread about girl cooties and ew vaginas to support her claim. Where are the boy cooties? Oh right. They don’t exist.

  17. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    “I wouldn’t ever say that gay men don’t face discrimination, but the issue here is male body vs. female body”

    And here we have the problem with m/m in a nutshell. The female writers and readers of m/m, using gay and bisexual men as their poseable puppets, dismiss their sexuality and the realities of being GBLT as being relevant to the issue or the genre. Basically it comes down to “I wouldn’t say gay men don’t face discrimination, but we’re going to ignore that as irrelevent because we want to use them as tools and toys to explore our own issues, attractions and fetishes” but still using gay men to do that

  18. Meoskop

    As Fangs points out, you’ve seperated gay men from men as a category, thereby narrowing the definition of men as it relates to sexuality. Men are not permitted to discuss sexuality freely either – they have to avoid appear gay, because that’s “bad”. Men are cast as promiscuious and dominant regardless of personal inclination, regardless of orientation. Male sexuality is a narrow, narrow lane. Is there no result because men don’t have the same issue or because the question is not asked or the question is too frightening to answer or etc. The causality of no value for that subset is not determined, so to say they don’t have that problem is a false conclusion.

    Certainly sexual violence affects sexuality. Certainly rape culture affects all of us in different ways. As humans we all suffer for it’s existence, no question. But you say “penis” is used more on television than “vagina” as though that is inherently meaningful to the expression of sexuality. Are there then, The Penis
    Monologues? Our Penis, Ourselves? Again, expressions are different but the existence of one does not disprove the existence of the other.

    As to where women discuss this – again, how are we defining women? Did my white, upper income, maternal aunt in the 50’s discuss sexuality openly? No. But my aunt in the 60’s sure did. The sex workers I grew up among did. My classmates in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s did. The feminists at my Planned Parenthood did. The non white women in my neighborhoods did. Yes, a certain segment of women are taught not to examine or consider their sexuality but this does not define American woman as a whole subset of humanity.

    Are men valued over women? Of course. Patriarchy. Does that translate into why m/m fantasy is used to explore female het sexual fantasy and f/f fantasy is used to explore male het fantasy? Not so much. As to the final point of girl cooties vs boy cooties – again, see the fear of the average American boy to keep anything remotely resembling homosexuality (as culturally preceived) from attaching to him. No homo!

    I stopped reading & reviewing m/m romance in the mid 90’s when I became uncomfortable with what I perceived as the increasing fetishization of the gay male experience to serve female sexual needs in the same manner that women are objectified by men. I have no idea what the current state of the market is, but when we ask why het men aren’t interested in m/m with the same fervor that we ask why het women aren’t interested in f/f I’ll pay attention.

  19. nu

    @Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy): I’m sorry if I came off dismissive. I may have flubbed up what I was trying to say. Women attempting to escape the violent, international policing of their sexuality and bodies (including POC and working class women; respectability politics didn’t spring from the ether) are, in the process, fetishizing, stereotyping, and idealizing gay men by magicking away issues and lending them some privilege that they don’t have, I agree with you. My suggestion has always been to interrogate one’s habits and attitudes and, in the case of internalized misogyny, address those hangups directly, by reading fiction that empowers women, rather than escaping into -bandaiding with- gay fiction that, as you said, is not relevant to actual gay men and riding the misogyny bandwagon home. OTOH, I’ve never believed that one oppressed group is justified or excused exploiting another, but I don’t know if it’s my right to tell the oppressed how they should cope either. I don’t read the genre myself.

  20. Jill Sorenson

    I don’t read m/m and have no reason to defend it. If you’re saying that men in general have it harder than women as far as sexual expression and fulfilling desires, I strongly disagree. If we’re comparing gay men to straight women, many have argued that those two groups are similar in terms of social power.

    There is no “fervor” in asking why het women don’t read f/f. The topic is rarely discussed. We’re not even discussing it now. The conversation has shifted to men and m/m, which is not unusual.

  21. Meoskop

    Re: f/f question – I’ve seen it 3x this week from disparate sources, and it’s not that uncommon that I encounter it. The m/m question? I never do.

    I am not arguing that men have it harder, I am arguing that women do not. I am arguing that the assumption of the post, that women’s inhibited sexuality is driving the lack of female response to f/f is false and that the subsequent conversation about women’s sexuality vs male is rooted in erroneous assumptions. Culturally, in America, all genders have narrow lanes assigned, and that lane’s suitability depends on the individual. Both are discouraged from open explorations.

    I strongly disagree that het women have it harder than het men in terms of societal dictation of their sexual expression or lack of same. I think we are on poles that can’t meet, really.

  22. Jill Sorenson

    Women are called sluts for the same behavior that makes men studs. We’re warned not to drink too much or dress too sexy. Our bodies are objectified, abused and policed more often. If you don’t think body shame is a factor in het women not reading f/f, fine. But the other stuff is just fact.