gender and reading, was [LMB] Legacy bound galleys & breakpoint

Victoria L'Ecuyer vlecuyer at ksu.edu
Fri Dec 8 19:37:10 GMT 2006


   
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Lois McMaster Bujold

***OK, but be it noted this is a theory still under construction, and 
this will be the stripped-down messy version, because of time constraints.

First, gender formation.  Gender formation consists of a certain amount 
of biology overlain by a lot of culture.  In our culture, gender 
differentiation goes into high gear at puberty, and consists to a large 
extent of a process of deletion.  The individual ejects or suppresses 
aspects of him/her/self perceived as belonging to the other gender, and 
the resultant cripples are called "young men" or "young women".  
Maturity, to an interesting extent, consists of people reclaiming a lot 
of these lost aspects to become more complete persons again.

Me: 
I've seen this in operation. I hire, train, supervise and play Office Mommy to a number of college students, mostly female. 

Lois McMaster Bujold
Status and status emergency.  Status seems to me under-examined as a 
biological (as contrasted with a social) motive.  It's necessarily a 
group thing; no one has status as a lone individual, as it is created 
relative to the group in which the individual is embedded.  [...] So humans have a 
*biological* need for enough status to obtain whatever their personal 
threshold may be to feel safe.  [...]When a person 
drops below their comfort zone of status, they are thrown into a state 
of status emergency or panic behavior [snip]

Me: 
I've seen this, too. My most notable experience was in advising one of my students how to deal with a stalker. 


Lois McMaster Bujold
Combining these two, there are three arenas of status/gender struggle: 
man vs. man, woman vs. woman, man vs. woman.  All overlap and all are 
combined with equally urgent needs for various kinds of cooperation 
amongst the participants, so at this point it all sort of goes fractal.  
But anyway.

In the post-puberty, not-yet-mature mode, the social model goes: girls 
attract guys by out-competing other women in attractiveness/status, the 
latter being defined as (million ways again) anything from beauty to 
owning more cows.

Me: 
Makes sense. It also explains a few things about herd mentality. The judges need common points of reference to determine "winners" and "loosers". So far, I'd have to say you've got a good working theory. Mostly because I feel included. 1) adolescent in a small, rural community. 2) very large extended family with lots of male cousins in the same/near grades, 3)total lack of interest in dating in High School because what was left over either didn't appeal or was already taken. It also covers things like Late Bloomers. 


Lois McMaster Bujold
Guys attract girls by *competing with other guys* to obtain 
victory/wealth/status: girls then happen automatically, without the guy 
having to actually, like, talk to them or anything.  (See: trophy wives.)

Me: 
*snigger*

Lois McMaster Bujold
Note that both genders are focusing on guys.

Problems happen when the girl has way more status than the guy, throwing 
him into possibly-unconscious status-emergency mode.  Problems also 
happen when the girl has *so* much less status, association with her 
saps the boy's status, ditto status-emergency for him. ...

Me: 
I've seen this happen lots of times and been the cause of at least one or two myself. 

Lois McMaster Bujold:
... In the puberty 
phase, when social enforcement of gender roles is in high gear, boys 
also lose status in the eyes of their very dangerous peers by 
association with anything "girly"; tomboys have similar troubles, if 
less directly lethal.  (But not always: see rl murder of Brandon 
Teena/Teena Brandon, and about a gazillion other people who stepped 
outside of prescribed gender boundaries in an unsafe place.)  [snip]

Me: 
I would expand this part all the way into pre-pubescent ages. The pre-teens are watching the teens the imitating and internalizing what they see. I know third and fourth graders who do the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I know of at least one instance of it when I was in grade school, too. 

Lois McMaster Bujold
Modern sexually-explicit romances as a genre have two strikes against 
them for male readers, in this model.  The woman's agenda always wins 
(status discomfort), and the sex is viewed through female eyes, with 
other males the focus of a sexual "gaze" as the femcrit term has it 
(gender-identity discomfort, with a side-order of homophobia.)  Porn for 
men has the opposite bias: women are seen sexualized through a male 
gaze, and the guys win.  (Or win (sex) and are then punished (with 
tragedy), allowing the consumer to have his cake and eat it too.)  Many 
women find such very uncomfortable, and I don't think it's because they 
dislike sex.  In romances for men -- Bridges of Madison County, Love 
Story (? -- where girl dies of cancer just before male would have to 
settle down & support her) the male protagonists likewise get let off 
the hook for all the work a happy ending would actually entail.  
Granted, women bought these books in droves, but the books didn't lose 
status by being classified as "romances".

"Winning", in the paragraph above, being once again variously defined.  
See any number of male action films where the guy gets to screw and run, 
extra bonus point for ones where the female lead also dies messily, 
[....] No wonder this stuff sells.  ...


Me: 
Ever watch the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"? It's what a friend of mine call "A Typical Hong Kong Film" and falls firmly into your "Romances for Men" category. Considering the strong Chinese cultural biases toward males your theory does a lot to explain the attraction of "A Typical Hong Kong Film" both there and abroad while I wanted to slap at least one of the characters on a regular basis. *sigh* It had some awesome landscapes and gorgous music, though. It was also one of the few movies where listening to the commentaries detracted from the story rather than enhancing it. 

Lois McMaster Bujold
... Less toxically and more 
even-handedly, append various amime examples, yaoi vs. fan service.  For 
that extra-special brain-bending moment, watch canonical male characters 
run through the female fanfic sausage-maker of slash, and turned into... 
well, I'm still figuring that one out.   Sock-puppets for the female 
writers' psychological agendas can certainly be one.  Contrast 
especially notable when said characters started out as sock-puppets for 
their male creator's psychological agendas.  Note to self: why odd 
dearth of lone-male-hero James-Bond/Conan-and-his clones fanfic?  Seems 
ripe for hijacking.  Women not interested -- those are heroes for guys? 

Me: 
I'd be interested in a demographic study. How many fanfic writers are female vs. male? If most of the fanficers are female, they're women writing for themselves and sharing with other women. That falls in nicely with your initial theory. If the demographics show more than a few males and many/most of those males write slash, you'd have to re-think your theory. If you have a large number of males who write fanfic, but don't write slash, your theory is still intact. The males still want to be in an active community where there are "gurls" who give positive, approving attention based on communication ... or at least their ability to write. Think geek mating rituals as opposed to jock games and popularity contests. 


Lois McMaster Bujold
Anyway, back to *my* book...

Among many other things, TSK attempts to be a romance that is 
even-handed between the genders.  It splits the viewpoint, so the sex 
scenes and issues take turns being between male and female eyes.  (Alas 
that the principal balancing scene is in a separate volume, so the guys 
who were made uncomfortable by the scene at Glassforge don't yet get 
their ruffled feathers soothed by the scene on the other side of West Blue.)

Me: 
*nggggg* 

Lois McMaster Bujold
Fawn's problems are the problems of a girl ambushed by puberty-traps, 
starting to reach for maturity/reintegration.  Dag is already mature, 
but has other troubles, some connecting to his failure to complete 
certain patterns at an earlier age.  These are *not* the same as the 
standard pubescent-male hero's-journey problems of the usual fantasy 
hero, because Dag's already a grown-up.  That will change... many things 
about this fantasy novel.

Me: 
Not the least of which is Dag seems to treat Fawn like a patroller-analog due to her malice kill. (An insider treating an outsider like an insider and giving her all sorts of rights and duties she hasn't the first clue about.) He's essentially lifting her out of the farmer specific female-vs-female fight for pride of place and putting her smack dab into a position of authority in his own culture as the head of his own personal tent and mother to his blood legacy/children. [1] I'm wondering how Mari and Dag's (harridan of a [2]) mother will react to that. Fawn will be in a place of power she would not have attained for several decades if she 

Isn't creative procrastination fun? May your avoidance bring many other good (story-related) words. 


Victoria 

[1] I'm speculating that keeping blood lines pure is very, very vital to the Lakewalkers. I don't know yet, but based on Mari's attitude that farmers aren't good enough to have an affair with, they're certainly NOT good enough to marry and have kids with. 

[2] Speculation again. Neither Dag nor Mari have kind references for that woman. 



 
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