Saturday, August 4, 2012

Peanut butter, chocolate, pizza, and sex

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. 


  1. what say we start a reality TV show called HELL'S BOOKSTORE...where we go in and over haul and teach the workers how to shelve and understand genre! good point about how girls emphasize the sexy aspect of SFF at Cons...but HELLO have you seen women superhero costumes created by men...

    1. I *love* this idea! Best reality show ever!!

  2. oh! your illustrations rock ! in a nerd kind of way ;)

  3. Hey, thanks, Sharon! I love that bookstore reality show idea. And yes, those costumes!!

  4. excellent summary, Carolyn - and fab illustrations, as always! Maybe it's because I totally remember those commercials, but I love this analogy.

    I can't believe you didn't smack that bookstore guy. Especially after you saw Kelly under erotica.

    And I agree on the scarcity thinking. A high tide floats all ships. My new motto.

    1. Thanks! And yeah I was just mortified. Filing UF and PNR under erotica. I felt like it was a deliberate statement.

  5. I would watch HELL'S BOOKSTORE! I've loved the posts this week. Despite the fact that I've been reading fantasy since, oh, about twelve, I'd never attended a convention until this spring to meet Patricia Briggs. Always had this idea in my head that I'd be the only woman there. I wasn't. Had a great time and regretted not going sooner. Reading about boothbunnies and Readercon saddens me. I'm sure I'm not the only female fantasy fan who's avoided cons thinking they'd be unwelcome.

    1. Oh Eleri, I'm so glad, and good for you for going! I'm so happy you had a good time. I think some of this talk can scare people off - I think the majority of fans. both male and female, are so warm and gracious and fun.

      Also, you met Patricia Briggs!

    2. Patricia Briggs ROCKS! I met her at a signing in Charlotte, NC for her Fair Game release. She is so funny and will sign your book ANY way you want. Mine says "to the smartest and bestest blogger in the world"

    "Everybody, everybody come here! Gather 'round."
    Points at Kelly Armstrong book on the Erotica shelf.
    "Look at that. Look at it! It's mis-shelved!"
    Gordon Ramsey shoves bookshelf over.
    "Piss off all of you!"

    1. ooh! Hell's Shelves is a better name...okay, you can have a percentage of the profits when I sell the idea The History channel!