Who remembers that commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups where there’s this guy walking down the street eating peanut butter, and then another guy is walking the other way eating chocolate, and they run into each other and fall down. And the one guy says, “You got peanut butter in my chocolate! And the other guys says, “Well you got chocolate in my peanut butter!” And then they both start eating it, and they’re like, “Hey, not bad!”
I think about that sometimes with the whole girl cooties thing we're discussing this week. And because I’m an urban fantasy writer, I think about it with urban fantasy. Like SFF readers thinking, “You got sex in my sci-fi/fantasy!” And many feeling like that's a bad thing.
Delving into relationships and sexuality has long been associated with a feminine point of view, and very hearth and home and second class and all that. And not high art.
I was at a used bookstore the other day, Booksmart in Uptown Minneapolis, and I asked the guy where the romance section was. He gave me this look and led me to this area and said, dripping with disdain, “It’s the pink ones.”
I stood there thinking, that’s not romance, fucker, that’s chicklit. You work in a bookstore and you don’t even know the difference? Like it’s all women crap. And then I saw Kelley Armstrong shelved under erotica and I wanted to trash the place. I will never go back.
I think there is a sense that a focus on relationships and sex scenes in particular don’t have story value. I remember Nick Hornby, a writer I greatly admire, once saying that he closes the door on sex scenes because, why do we need to know who put what bits where? Like it all has no more story value than pizza delivery boy porn.
Sure, there are sex scenes that have zero story value, only titillation value. But a lot of sex scenes do have great story value. Because, in real life, people do reveal deep things about their character in sex, or have turning points and various types of breakthroughs. Sex is a kind of anvil of character development. So to me, the peanut butter and the chocolate should be mixed together, or the story has a gap.
With battle scenes, I would never say, I don’t need to know who put their knife where, just tell me who won. Sure, some battle scenes have no story value - they're just a lot of clashing knives and foot sweeps, but many do. Choreography-only battle scenes don't make me think battle scenes don't belong in good books. It’s sort of like the question, how long is a piece of string? Aren’t you glad there’s an illustration for that?
I actually read a lot of the comments on that notorious Scalzi post about the “booth bunny/geek” issue, and a lot of the objections to women’s involvement in SFF cons revolve around their degrading the genre and the cons with a preoccupation with sex and/or titillation or relationship stuff without reverence, or really even knowledge, of what SFF is all about, the idea being that that’s a bad way of interacting with the genre and takes space from others. I thought the dialogue was cool, as was Scalzi’s post. One of the points made was that women interact with the SFF genre in many ways, and even if they interact as “booth bunnies,” is it so very wrong? Why can’t that be their way, or even their gateway?
A lot of the objections to feminine interaction is a kind of “scarcity thinking,” like there is somehow not enough to go around, or a thing will be taken away or changed for the worse.
I see this objection with cons, and also the bookstore shelving issue – I’m talking about B&N now--new bookstores. Like girls are taking away dwindling SFF shelf space and con space. And I think that is scarcity thinking, which is a way of being small and not expansive.
Which is ironic, considering SFF is so much about imagining something beyond current reality. In my mind, the failure to imagine something more, and the urge to cling to the past, is always an enemy of art and of progress.
To me, UF and SFF, like all great literature, is way of encountering humanity and the humanity in ourselves, and if you take it by that definition, the marginalization of women, or of any mode of human interaction, is just a kind of impoverishment.