Monday, March 7, 2016

#OscarsSoWhite and #BestNovelSoMale

Anyone who's been on social media in the past month has almost certainly at least tripped across a headline about the Oscar controversy.

What some may not have seen was subsequent comments criticizing the LAT Book Prize Mystery/Thriller nomination.


I completely agree there's a problem if men are avoiding books by women because they think novels by men are somehow more worthy of focus. What I want to make clear from the start is just that this was what got me thinking about this topic and how it ties in with the possible return of Spinetingler awards. Nothing more. No fingers pointed at the source. No assertions the claim is wrong. Just my thoughts on the subject of awards and how this issue - which has been a recurring issue in crime fiction - is affecting my thinking right now.

I'm not here to dispute the opinion. I'll admit these types of issues always make me nervous. In my life the thing that I've been discriminated against is being a smart/nerd/bookish type of person. That's my childhood experience at school in a nutshell. 

There was gender stereotyping. I do recall being told that I couldn't take karate because it was a guy thing. I don't think that was born out of discrimination, but rather the gender stereotyping that was prevalent in the 70s.

What I don't like about feminism is that some feminists seem to push more for superiority than equality. 

And I don't want to assume that discrimination is the reason someone does or does not read or nominate a specific book.

I have to be honest. I tend to read books by men because I don't enjoy some attributes of women or interests that a lot of women share. I'm not a girly girl and have no interest in fashion. I've been married twice and that's the number of men I've slept with. Couldn't care less if you think that makes me a prude. What you do yourself is your business, but I'm just not interested in reading 50 Shades of anyone's sex life. I don't enjoy spending time with women who are petty, backbiting, superficial and fit the "mean girls" image, so I don't want to spend time with characters like that in my reading (unless it really fits the narrative). I just spent four years working with a lot of bitchy, catty, superficial, mean women. Yes, some people were nice and good and decent. Most weren't. It was like high school times 1000. I wake up every day thankful I don't have to deal with all that crap anymore. If I want to spend time with bitches I'll get female dogs.

That said, I'd hang with Molly Solverson any day. 

What have I read lately? The first Harry PotterĖ†novel and Kass Morgan's The 100. Both books by female authors. One is enormously popular, and this is my first time reading Harry Potter because I tend to avoid the super-popular stuff, having never fit in with anything extremely popular in my life. 

I love The 100 TV show. It swings for the fences. They throw plot twist after plot twist at a breakneck speed and have done some things that are truly dark and haunting while trying to give hope to the human survivors establishing communities in a post-apocalyptic world. I liked the book but prefer the TV show, perhaps because I love Octavia in the show as opposed to the novel and I like some of the other characters the show has that the novel does not.

Although I tend to read a lot of books by male authors and count male authors amongst my favorites I do read books by women.

My reluctance to draw conclusions about the lack of female nominees is not because the inference about the reason is necessarily wrong. 

I just don't want to see the day that every award category has to have a token African American nominee and a token female nominee and a token LGBT nominee and a token Asian nominee...

I do want to believe that awards have something to do with merit, but the longer I've lived the more certain I am that they have more to do with popularity than anything else.

All of this brings me to the real point of this post today. We used to have Spinetingler awards. We haven't had them for the last few years. There are a number of reasons for this. The awards became too much for us to handle, and detracted from our ability to do much else. Combined with the demands of daily life there hasn't been much time in recent years for writing, never mind contributing meaningful content to Spinetingler or this blog or managing the awards.

We have been having discussions about bringing a streamlined version of the awards back. This may involve cash prizes for a few select categories. It could be very good for writers with works in those categories, and I like the idea of supporting writers.

The issue that I come back to is the issue of possible bias. I'm inclined to split any category in two and have a list of nominees and eventual winner in a 'best male' category and a list of nominees and eventual winner in a 'best female' category.

I really, really, really have no interest in investing my personal time and energy into doing something that is intended to help writers and find myself on the possible back end of accusations. I will flip my shit if someone comes at me and says a writer was picked just because they were male or female or black or pink with purple polkadots.

I mean, for short stories the best writers that come to mind include Patti Abbot and Sandra Seamans. How about Nikki Dolson, M.G. Tarquini, J.T. Ellison and Amra Pajalic? Spinetingler has proudly published all of these talented female writers, and many others. I still recall the atmosphere of J.T.'s chilling short story we published. These ladies are all capable of penning works that stay with you long after you've read them. Why, today I was just recommending Cornelia Read to someone...

The question on the table is whether it's time to split the categories. Will it solve more problems than it creates? Or is it a sign that one gender can't compete against the other? 

Thoughts? If we decide to bring the awards back we will be making an announcement soon so we're throwing the door open for discussion now. 


John McFetridge said...

Well, there's the gender of the author and then the gender of the book. We have an odd situation in Canada where the best-known, award-winning, best-seller crime novels are mostly written by women but they almost all have a male protagonist (Louise Penny, Maureen Jennings, Brabara Fradkin...) The best-sellers with female protagonists are mostly written by men (Ian Hamilton, Michael Redhill as Inger Ash Wolfe...). I have no idea why this is.

But I will be totally honest and say I am often diappointed by these books. I have rarely found much insight into the main characters of the kind I get in, say, Alice Munro stories or Megan Abbott's writing. Or Ian Rankin's.

I have no idea if you should split the categories.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, that's more about personal reading tastes. When assigned to read for an award you read the list. Then the assessment is about quality of writing, not taste.

I really get pissed at the thought that we have to have a quota for what's nominated. I hate to think I have to figure out the best book by each gender, even if there are a dozen better books by the other gender. I don't want to feel like a single category has to broken into subcategories because then the nominees aren't best book. They're best book that fits the subcategory quota that isn't stated but required to prevent accusations of discrimination.

Would we see the same accusation if all nominees were by female authors? Doubtful. It would heralded as a glorious day for women.

Jen Conley said...

I'm glad you are thinking about bringing back the Spinetingler awards. They're fantastic and well-respected and it's a great feather in a writer's cap to get nominated, never mind win. But since you asked, I'll say I'm not a fan of splitting the categories up by gender. At Shotgun Honey, the majority of our submissions are written by men. And I'm guessing, right now, that's the trend for most straight up crime fiction publications--maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I think writers, male or female, want their work to be treated equally. Splitting the categories might mean (if my guess is correct) that the women's group will be smaller and the competition will be lighter, which makes the award itself unequal.

I like the idea of splitting the categories but I'm not sure it works at the moment.