Fighting Sexism With Sexism in the Horror Genre?

The British Fantasy Society has recently taken criticism because their new collection of 16 interviews with horror authors failed to include any women. It’s pointed out that there are “a lot” of women who write horror, and of course, Mary Shelley’s name comes up.

On the surface it does appear to be blatant sexism. But I think it’s important here, as with many gender issues, to look deeper and make sure we’re not accusing people of sexism based on premises that are themselves fundamentally sexist.

What proportion of horror writers are female? And of those, what proportion are among the best in their field? This list of the top 20 horror writers of all time does not include any women. Maybe its author is himself biased, but there is no question that serious horror (i.e., not Twilight) is a male-dominated community.

Let’s estimate that, say, one out of every ten serious horror writers are female. And let’s say that, for this controversial interview anthology, its creators had to randomly pick from all of the horror authors worthy of inclusion based on their writing alone (i.e., not their gender). The probability of, by chance, picking 16 male authors, then, is (.90)^16 = .185, or 18.5%.

So not a great chance, but still a chance. In the lingo of science, if lack of sexism were the null hypothesis, this wouldn’t be enough to reject it (i.e., prove sexism). My numbers could be off, but I predict my point is valid: even if no sexism were operating and authors were picked from a pool based on merit alone, there is a non-negligible chance that the collection would include zero females.

One could argue that a woman author should have been sought out for inclusion just to represent her gender in the community. But this is itself a sexist premise. It is proposing that a woman should have been given special privilege based on her gender alone, rather than her merit as an author. It’s the same principle behind affirmative action, and in my humble opinion, horribly misguided. It should be self-evident that the key to eliminating sexism is not more sexism.

What is the key? That is a complex question, but I think it needs to start at the bottom. We can’t force the top of any merit-based honour to comprise 50% of each gender. What we can do is make sure there are no obstacles for women on the road to the top, and that safe passage there is based on merit alone. Even more importantly, we can encourage more women to get on that road in the first place if they want to. Even then, there is no guarantee of a 50/50 split – it’s quite possible that horror simply appeals to men more than women because of some genuine difference between the genders – but any women that do hop on board shouldn’t face any sexist roadblocks.

It’s possible that some sexism occurred in this interview collection (either consciously or unconsciously), but there is not enough evidence to convince me either way. I am convinced that writers should be judged based on their writing rather than their gender, and that knee-jerk accusations of sexism need to be carefully examined lest we make the problem even worse.

Book Review: Living Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris

Living Dead in Dallas is the second book in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, and the basis for the second season of True Blood. It follows the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse, redneck vampire boinker, as stuff happens to her in her small hometown of Bon Temps, then different stuff happens in the titular Dallas, then in Bon Temps again.

Most of what I said about Dead Until Dark still applies here. Harris’s writing is full of personality and small moments of brilliance that almost make up for the rest of the awkward prose. It’s nice light beach reading, though, because of both the simple writing and the tendency for characters to mindlessly repeat events that just happened (sometimes on the previous page), ensuring that if you get distracted there will always be a “previously on True Bl- Living Dead in Dallas” style review.

The plot is kinda interesting, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to describe this book (or the last one) as a detective story or murder mystery. First of all, there are pretty much two entirely separate stories in the book. The main plot taking place in Dallas has nothing to do with the murder occuring on the first page. Second, the murder plot that bookends the Dallas stuff is only a detective story in the Harry Potter sense: i.e., the main character happens to be around when the rest of the characters spell out the solution to the mystery then proceed to resolve it, but she didn’t do much “detecting” other than knowing where to show up.

I also need to comment on some of the, uh, “character flaws” here. Sookie is a selfish, petty, and manipulative “hero.” Her biggest worries seem to be not about the safety of her loved ones, nor even her own safety, but rather the state of her hair, and whether she is wearing an appropriate outfit or not. Seriously, she cries over messy hair. She is also willfully stupid, specifically refusing to think through actions that destroy others’ lives. Her boyfriend has the excuse of being a vampire, but he’s not entirely innocent either; he’s a bit of an abusive rapist who thinks all problems can be solved with sex, violence, or violent sex. But Sookie seems to fully agree, so maybe it’s a match made in heaven.

Just like the TV show, Living Dead in Dallas is glorious cheesy mess of violence, sex and character drama that, even if not thrown together very tactfully or providing any heartfelt messages about doing the right thing, is damn entertaining. Which is why I will resist the urge to end this review with “hah! More like Living Dead in Dallass“.

Oops.

Book Review: Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

Two of my favourite TV shows ever are Six Feet Under and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So when I heard that the creator of Six Feet Under was helming a show about vampires, I had to check it out. As predicted, I enjoyed the crap out of True Blood, which lead me to impulsively buy the series of books that it’s based on.

The first book starts off with a great opening line: “I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.” Immediately from there, it launches into the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a Southern small-town waitress with two disabilities: the curse of having to read peoples’ minds, and a really stupid name. The first one is what first draws her to the vampire, because she can’t read his mind, which she thinks is awesome because men are scum and they only think terrible things. And although not mentioned, the stupid name problem probably helps her to relate to Bill, which is a pretty dumb name for a vampire. After she meets him, people start dying, hell breaks loose, etc etc. You know the drill.

True Bl Dead Until Dark is written in a first-person style from Sookie’s perspective, and indeed the novel feels like the rambling diary of a realistic, naive young woman who isn’t particularly good at writing, being full of awkward sentences and tactless exposition. This either means: (1) Charlaine Harris is really good at simulating how much Sookie sucks at writing; or (2) Charlaine Harris just sucks at writing.

But let’s just pretend it’s (1) and focus on the positive. Partly because of the informal first-person style, Sookie’s personality comes through, and the little expressions she uses and social conventions she frets over help to bring the Southern setting to life. I could’ve done without her agonizing over what to wear in every single chapter and the sickening mind-games she casually manipulates the males in her life with, but intentional or not, she at least seems like a flawed, real (albeit stereotypically female) person.

There is a murder mystery that ties each chapter together, but the characters seem more interested in short-term questions about cleaning the house, work timetables, and vampire ejaculation than about who’s killing their friends and families. Some chapters can feel separated from the rest of the story, as if nobody remembers what came before. As a single book it’s disjointed, and actually feels a bit like a big pilot episode, with dangling plot elements that exist only to set up future installments. But since there are plenty of future installments, and there is a TV series based on it, this episodic storytelling isn’t entirely unwelcome.

The novel departs from the first season of True Blood in quite a few significant ways. Most obvious is the complete lack of Tara in the novel, the alternate reason for Bill’s little trip late in the book, and the ending. There is also one plot element missing from the show, which is a great thing because, while I hate to use this word, it can only be described as retarded. Without giving anything away, it starts with “B”; anyone who’s read it will know what I’m talking about. True Blood also added a few entirely new subplots that I thought worked as well, if not better, than what was from the novel. This gives me hope for the show, because many of the show’s flaws were inherited from the book, and the creators’ willingness to depart from it can only bode well for future seasons.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit snarky in describing Dead Until Dark, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. It’s not a masterfully told story, but it does a few new things with the crowded vampire genre, and has just enough sex and violence to provide some cheap thrills. I recommend it for fans of the show looking to see what inspired it, or anyone else who likes cheesy vampire crap.

The Endless Cycle of Checking Stuff

My use of the internet has reached a critical point. A point where, if I’m not careful, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that is nearly impossible to escape.

It used to be, I’d wake up, check my email, respond if needed, then get on with my day. Maybe check my email again an hour or two later.

Now, it’s wake up, check my main email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check Friendfeed, chat on MSN a bit, check Tumblr, check Google Reader, chat on Google Chat a bit, check my other email address, check the news, and oh, it’s been an hour, so there might be something new at my main email. And Facebook. Can’t forget Twitter. Maybe in between, if there’s time, I think of something to blab about on the blog – hi – and then it’s time for the cycle to resume.

Then, oh, whoops, it’s bed time. I’ve been at the computer for 16 hours. And I’ve wet myself.

What I should do is unplug my router. I should turn off my computer. For seriously, what I should do is, I should cut off my electricity and chop up my desk to burn for heat. You know, really get back to the basics and focus on what’s important – family, friends, pets, a good book.

I’ll just check my email one last time.

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Edit: In related news, here’s an article on multitasking in Wired Science. It’s interesting, but could also win the award for most blatant contradiction between the headline and the article.