Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Human and Animal CHARACTER: ASPCA study: "Pretty" pups picked first By Sarah D. Bunting | Animal Nation
The ASPCA is set to release a study revealing that "physical appearance" is the most important reason pet adopters give for choosing puppies from animal shelters.
Cats, meanwhile, could rely on inner beauty; the numbers showed that "behavior with people" was the most important quality folks looked for in a feline.
The ASPCA conducted the research from January to May of last year, gathering information at five shelters nationwide. Roughly 1,500 prospective pet parents answered questionnaires about their chosen pets, and how they decided that a particular animal was the one for them. The organization hopes to use their answers to make better and more frequent matches between shelter pets and people; understanding what factors go into the adoption decision is extra-handy for the front-line shelter workers, who can then supply additional information and insights about particular cats or dogs that might not be immediately evident to a first-time browser.
Dr. Emily Weiss, VP of shelter research and development for the group, welcomed the chance to "get inside the human animal's head" – and not surprisingly, humans often reported wanting a sign from a cat or dog. Previous research confirmed that animals who came to the front of their cages to greet visitors had a much higher chance of getting adopted, and the new study establishes similar findings. Adopters were asked, among other questions, "What did this pet do when you first met him/her?", and many respondents mentioned a specific social exchange – approaching, meowing, licking, and even jumping on or into the laps of visitors. Dr. Weiss noted that that kind of cue is key for the humans in establishing a connection beyond initial cuteness: "That interaction is important for the human animal—not just entertainment, but in choosing their next friend."
Other interesting stats included the relative importance of age to prospective adopters – it ranked as the most important factor for kitten shoppers, while those looking for adult dogs ranked it much lower – and the fact that a puppy's behavior with people, while less important (and presumably graded on a curve thanks to a lack of training), only lagged behind other factors by less than a percentage point. Some of the stats appear below, and you can read the entire study here.
Behavior with people: 77.9%
Physical appearance: 65.6%
Behavior with people: 69.3%
Physical appearance: 62.8%
Behavior with people: 78.3%
Physical appearance: 75.4%
Physical appearance: 76.8%
Behavior with people: 73.9%
(Respondents were able to pick multiple reasons.)
How did you choose YOUR shelter pet? Did you select her because of her adorable little ears – or because she sat on your foot? How did you know she was right for you and your family? Tell us your tales of best-friend at first sight in the comments!
Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.
Shine Love + Sex: What his pet says about his romantic potential
Friday, April 20, 2012
The scene in the pix is E. 9, Cleveland OH.
Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
The reviews are starting to descend upon the planet and the resounding response is glowing: "Marvel's The Avengers" is sizing up to be the next must-see action blockbuster this year.
Landing in theaters on May 4th, the timing couldn't be better—as box office enthusiasm for "" will have presumably finally waned by then.
"Avengers"-watchers so far seem to agree the action sequences are astounding in 3D. Most reviews offer high praise of writer-director Joss Whedon for making a film that will please both comic book geeks and general audiences alike.
Here are the highlights, which include praise and some criticisms:
"Pays off in extravagant fashion... escapism of a sophisticated order... Production is technically immaculate."
[PHOTOS: 'The Avengers' Los Angeles premiere]
"...not only does this eye-popping 3D display of visual effects fireworks feature an enormously high proportion of action scenes, but director Joss Whedon has adroitly balanced the celebrity circus to give every single one of the superstar characters his or her due."
"...the inspired manner in which writer-director Joss Whedon springs the element of surprise is the trump card of the picture..."
"...a successful amalgam of skilful actors, witty banter, top-of-the-line effects, bigger-is-better action sequences and giddy good cheer. Though overlong and inevitably burdened by the need to juggle so many protagonists..."
"As serious as the stakes get, Whedon's never afraid to let a joke out... and it gives the film a light, bouncy tone that makes it such a pleasure to watch."
"With so many characters, it's somewhat inevitable that someone get shortchanged and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is notably underused here."
"...overall Avengers Assemble [the film's title in Britain] is by far the most spectacular superhero ever made in terms of a visual extravagance, and is truly something that has been worth waiting for..."
"...smart, funny and dramatic, but with all the trappings of a sci-fi action movie presented fully intact."
"I have never been to a film that brought out so much enthusiasm from the audience, engaging with them on a level that brought out true emotion."
—Yahoo! Movies resident comic-book-nerd-turned-movie-reviewer Galen Sturgess, who attended the Sydney premiere
Watch 'Marvel's The Avengers' Clip:
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Character News: Can Kids Be Raised in a Gender-neutral Society? Sweden Thinks So By Charlene Prince Birkeland, Team Mom
In the U.S., a girl being kicked off a baseball team because of her gender -- or a boy being allowed on a girls' swim team despite his gender -- makes national headlines. And in Sweden, attempts to create a more gender-equal -- or even gender-neutral -- country are causing a stir.
In an effort to support gender neutrality, Sweden recently added a gender-neutral pronoun, "hen," to the country's National Encyclopedia. Slate reports that several preschools in Sweden have stopped making references to the gender of their students. Instead of calling children "boys and girls," teachers are referring to students as "buddies."
One school even stopped allowing free playtime during the day because "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying." And the country just published its first gender-neutral children's book, "Kivi och Monsterhund."
The objective of creating a society that focuses on "hens," of course, is to allow children to grow up without being limited by gender stereotypes. "It's a laudible goal," Stuart Lustig, M.D., a child psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Shine. "But the notion of gender is deeply ingrained," he says, and depends on how children are socialized.
Elise Claeson, a columnist and a former equality expert at the Swedish Confederation of Professions, has been quoted as saying that the term "hen" could even confuse children because it introduces an "in between-gender."
So what happens when gender neutrality is applied to sports? It depends on the type of athletic activity.
Last fall, the Swedish Bowling Federation initiated a plan to make bowling gender neutral by getting rid of male and female tournaments. Michael Gervais, Ph.D., a licensed sports psychologist for DISC Sports & Spine Center, tells Shine that some sports require a level of technical proficiency while others require a level of physicality for success. Bowling falls into the former category, where technical proficiency is necessary so gender doesn't play much of a role.
A similar situation might be seen in football, where a female wants to the placekicker on a high school or college team. "It's a technical proficiency, where strength doesn't impact success."
But if you examine gender neutrality in a physically aggressive sport, like boxing?
"I can't imagine boys and girls would fair well at a certain age," says Dr. Gervais. When kids are younger and hormones haven't haven't kicked in, gender may be a non issue but "when they do, the power and strength of the male anatomy would create problems in a gender neutral environment."
[Not in elementary and early mid school; girls are bigger, stronger, and often more aggressive_NS]
And we can't forget the social implications, where boys are raised to not hit girls. " America has a hard time with young boys fighting young girls," Dr. Gervais tells Shine.
[And yet grown men do. How's that working for us? I guess a beating, beat down is preferred to equal, planned fighting._NS]
Dr. Lustig adds that the challenges of gender neutral sports is dependent on the age group. Early on, when kids are perhaps six years old through 12 years old, children may be more comfortable around kids of the same gender. But issues become more obvious for teens playing contact sports.
"Contact with the opposite gender could be fraught with complicated emotions," he says.
[Because adults, especially parents, make it overly complicated when we should be actually talking with our kids about emotions, especially during sexualized situations experienced and opportunities seen in film, TV, etc._NS]
Monday, April 09, 2012
Gay, Bi, lusty teen love ebook...
BANNED by Amazon Kindle! Without explanation. My first teen gay sex, lust, love pub. Hm.
Get It Here!!
|Kindle / Mobipocket |
|Adobe PDF |
PayLoadz Affiliates welcome! Great generous percentage for your help!
Saturday, April 07, 2012
If you're not the type to keep up with ugly, soul-killing political controversies, let me catch you up: A while back, hugely popular political commentator Rush Limbaugh lost a bunch of advertisers because he publicly called a college girl a slut and a prostitute after she suggested that health insurance plans should cover birth control. But he's paid to say outrageous things. If you really want to feel all dead inside, you need to listen to what the regular folk were saying.
For instance, on crazy political message board FreeRepublic.com, posters referred to the girl in the above-referenced story (Sandra Fluke) as a "Nasty, disease-ridden plodding uterus, an utter skank crack-ho filthy whore, a prostitute slutbag juice-receptacle" and a "Sperm-burpin' gutter slut," and said she "... is so encrusted and used, that I had to throw out my flat-panel TV because her appearance on my TV infected it with AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis." There are many, many more worse comments collected here and here and here.
Now go to the front page of any mostly male discussion site like Reddit.com and see how many inches you can browse before finding several thousand men bemoaning how all women are gold-digging whores (7,500 upvotes) and how crazy and irrational women are (9,659 upvotes) and how horrible and gross and fat women are (4,000 upvotes). Or browse the "Men's Rights" section and see weird fantasies about alpha males defeating all the hot women who try to control them with their vaginas.
This current of white-hot rage has to come as a surprise to some of you, because we tend to think "sexism" is being dismissive toward women, or paying them lower salaries -- we don't think of it as frenzied "burn the witch!" hatred. Yet occasionally something like this Limbaugh thing will come along to prick that balloon, and out it pours. Like it's always waiting there, a millimeter below the surface.
Why? Well, you see ...
#5. We Were Told That Society Owed Us a Hot Girl
Does it seem like men feel kind of entitled to sex? Does it seem like we react to rejection with the maturity of a child being denied a toy?
Well, you have to keep in mind that what we learn as kids is really hard to deprogram as an adult. And what we learned as kids is that we males are each owed, and will eventually be awarded, a beautiful woman.
"Surprise! Just a little something for graduation."
We were told this by every movie, TV show, novel, comic book, video game and song we encountered. When the Karate Kid wins the tournament, his prize is a trophy and Elisabeth Shue. Neo saves the world and is awarded Trinity. Marty McFly gets his dream girl, John McClane gets his ex-wife back, Keanu "Speed" Reeves gets Sandra Bullock, Shia LaBeouf gets Megan Fox in Transformers, Iron Man gets Pepper Potts, the hero in Avatar gets the hottest Na'vi, Shrek gets Fiona, Bill Murray gets Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, Frodo gets Sam, WALL-E gets EVE ... and so on.
Hell, at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman, Richard Gere walks into the lady's workplace and just carries her out like he's picking up a suit at the dry cleaner.
"I'll take the one in brown flannel. I don't need a bag."
And then we have Star Wars, where Luke starts out getting Princess Leia (in The Empire Strikes Back), but then as Han Solo became a fan favorite, George Lucas realized he had to award her to him instead (forcing him to write the "She's secretly Luke's sister" thing into Return of the Jedi, even though it meant adding the weird incest vibe to Empire). With Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling played with the convention by having the beautiful girl get awarded to the sidekick character Ron, but she made it a central conflict in the story that Ron is constantly worried that, since Harry is the main character, Hermione will be awarded to him instead.
In each case, the woman has no say in this -- compatibility doesn't matter, prior relationships don't matter, nothing else factors in. If the hero accomplishes his goals, he is awarded his favorite female. Yes, there will be dialogue that maybe makes it sound like the woman is having doubts, and she will make noises like she is making the decision on her own. But we, as the audience, know that in the end the hero will "get the girl," just as we know that at the end of the month we're going to "get our paycheck." Failure to award either is breaking a societal contract. The girl can say what she wants, but we all know that at the end, she will wind up with the hero, whether she knows it or not.
"Wait right there. I need to go defeat my demons and realize the strength was in me all along."
And now you see the problem. From birth we're taught that we're owed a beautiful girl. We all think of ourselves as the hero of our own story, and we all (whether we admit it or not) think we're heroes for just getting through our day.
So it's very frustrating, and I mean frustrating to the point of violence, when we don't get what we're owed. A contract has been broken. These women, by exercising their own choices, are denying it to us. It's why every Nice Guy is shocked to find that buying gifts for a girl and doing her favors won't win him sex. It's why we go to "slut" and "whore" as our default insults -- we're not mad that women enjoy sex. We're mad that women are distributing to other people the sex that they owed us.
Yes, the women in these stories are being portrayed as wonderful and beautiful and perfect. But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.
"Careful, you'll make my tie smell like whore, 'friend.'"
Which brings us to the next problem ...
#4. We're Trained from Birth to See You as Decoration
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with putting a pretty girl on the cover of a magazine or posing her next to a shiny new car. The pretty girl gets a good job, men want her, women want to be her, everybody is happy. Right?
The problem is that it goes way deeper than that.
"Brought to you by the American Corn Farmers Association."
From my experience, if there is a fundamental difference between male and female sexuality, it's this: There are actual occasions where women aren't thinking about sex. Here, let me show you an extreme example. I'm going to quote a Free Republic thread again, because I quite frankly can't stop reading them. These are some comments they made about a female public figure, and I want you to guess who it is:
"Her face is so ugly you can smash it into some dough and make gorilla cookies."
"So fugly, I'd say 'don't even look'!!!"
"At least Medusa was modestly attractive by comparison."
"This person is disgusting and I would never trust 'it's' opinion on ANYTHING!"
Have you guessed? They're talking about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
A woman who didn't just graduate from Harvard Law -- she became the fucking dean.
Yes, even in that setting, when judging a female for a position on the highest court in the land, our instinct is still to judge her suitability as a sex partner. It's the first thing we notice. And you could just write that off as a bunch of douches being shallow, but then you have to realize how all of society has conformed to this. Forget about objectification in the media or fashion industry -- go to a diner, they've got the pretty girl waiting tables. Go to a department store, they'll have a pretty girl selling you pants.
See, that's the difference. With men, there are some scenarios where it stops mattering how he looks. With women, it always matters. In a comedy movie, the male wacky sidekick can be the chubby Zach Galifianakis or the nearly deformed Steve Buscemi. But if the female wacky sidekick isn't attractive, like the overweight Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, then every scene needs to be about how ugly and fat and mannish she is. That has to be the core of her character.
"You mean there's other things in the world besides food? Surely you jest."
Her role in society or level of accomplishment doesn't matter. Even if she's a damned candidate for the Supreme Court, the female always has a dual role: to function as a person, and to act as decor.
And we get pissed if she doesn't do her job. Check out any article about a female celebrity who has gained weight. Here's literally the first one I found on Google, a blog post about how fat Christina Aguilera has gotten. Check the comments:
"fuck her! I have a full-time job, go to grad school full-time, cook at home every night and still find time to get my ass to the gym. lazy ass fat bitch ..."
Don't get me wrong -- if it's a male celebrity in the article, you'll get lots of people making fun of his fatness. If it's a female, you get anger.
That's her, two months ago, by the way. How dare that fucking bitch?
She owes it to us to be pretty. That's the social contract as we've understood it from the time we were toddlers.
And it's a no-win situation. We hate you if you're ugly; if you're pretty, then ...
#3. We Think You're Conspiring With Our Boners to Ruin Us
... aka, Why Do You Think the Garden of Eden Story Has a Snake?
First, you need to understand something about the unique love/hate relationship men have with their penises.
Do you remember that story about police having to free a guy who got his dick stuck while humping a pool filter? Or that other guy who got stuck humping a park bench, or the other guy who got stuck humping a picnic table? Or that judge who got caught jerking off while on the bench listening to testimony?
"Do me a solid and bring that one chick with the huge boobs back up to testify."
You see this type of story come up a lot -- check your local police blotter. And they all have something in common: They're all guys.
Seriously, do a Google search for "masturbating in public library." Notice something in common with all of those stories? They're all dudes. Obviously I'm not saying women don't pleasure themselves (every single study would prove me a liar); I'm saying that men are far, far more likely to engage in extremely high-risk masturbation in public. They're more likely to do it at work, and they're more likely to do it in situations where they could go to jail.
No, it's not some rare, weird exhibitionist fetish, either. It's that they can't even wait the couple of hours it'd take to do it safely at home.
It's why we refer to the IT guy as "cockblocker."
It makes absolutely no sense. All calculation of risk goes out the window. Why?
It's because, in males more so than females, the sex drive is completely detached from the rest of the personality. The part of the male brain that worries about job security or money or social reputation or legal consequences has almost no veto power over the sex drive. You've heard guys say they were "thinking with their dick" or "I was thinking with the little brain" or "I took an order from Captain Bonerhelmet." That's what they're referring to.
Science doesn't seem to totally understand why the "base urges" part of the brain reacts differently in men. Maybe it's just a matter of having 10 times as much testosterone in their system, or maybe society has trained us to be like this, or maybe we're all spoiled children. My theory is that evolution needs males who will stay horny even in times of crisis or distress, and thus cuts off the brain's ability to tamp down those urges. Whatever -- nailing down the cause isn't the point. The point is that a man can be giving the eulogy at his own grandmother's funeral, and if there is a girl in the front row showing cleavage, he will be imagining himself pressing those boobs in his face, with his own dead grandmother not five feet away.
"And that's why I know that grandma is boobing down on our cleavage today in this titties time."
When that happens, when we get that boner at the funeral, we get mad at the girl showing the cleavage. Because we, ourselves, our own rational personality that knows right from wrong and appropriate from inappropriate, knows this is a bad place to get a boner. So it comes off like cleavage girl is conspiring with our penis to screw us over.
Is that a crazy thing to think? Yep! That's why it's so frustrating, especially if you don't have a whole lot of emotional maturity, and grew up with male role models who had even less.
No, this doesn't excuse anything. Obviously, "She was asking for it!" is still a bullshit rape defense. All I'm saying is when you see guys actually get annoyed or angry at the sight of a girl showing too much skin, or if you see them eager to degrade or humiliate the girls at the strip club, this is why. It's probably why some Muslims make their women cover themselves head to toe.
"Where's your eye drape? You trying to get us arrested?"
And in the Bible, it's Eve who tempts Adam to sin ... by conspiring with a snake.
Every male reading this is going to think I'm belaboring the obvious (after all, the world is full of comedy bits like this one about how hot girls are almost demonic in their ability to control males against their will). But I have never explained this to a woman who didn't look at me like I was insisting that all men are secretly werewolves.
But even this isn't the thing that makes us angriest ...
#2. We Feel Like Manhood Was Stolen from Us at Some Point
You know how every comedy has that stock character of the womanizing, amoral guy who just says what he thinks all the time, and cares only about himself? Joey in Friends, Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men, Sterling Archer in Archer, Gob in Arrested Development, Ashton Kutcher's character in That '70s Show, Michael in our Web series, the title character in my books?
Guys love that character because he's doing what, on some level, we all wish we could do. It's also why you have all of these ad campaigns desperately appealing to males who fear that they've lost their masculinity ("If you use a competitor's product, we're going to have to take away your Man Card!")
See, every single male can remember the first time, when he was 5 or 6 years old, he showed his penis to a stranger and everybody started freaking the hell out. He can remember the first time he got in trouble for hitting somebody, for peeing in public, for trying to jump off some high object or set something on fire. All of the core male urges, all the suggestions whispered to us by Darth Penis, all of it gets us in trouble.
And, when we get nostalgic for the past, we always dress it up in some ridiculous fantasy like 300, where everybody is shirtless and screaming and hacking things with swords. We are fed this idea that at one time, this is how the world was -- all of these impulses that have been getting us grounded and sent to detention from kindergarten on used to be not only allowed, but celebrated.
"No, just hold on. I'm gonna ramp you over that car."
And then at some point, women took it all away.
A once-great world of heroes and strength and warriors and cigars and crude jokes has been replaced by this world of grumpy female supervisors looming over our cubicle to hand us a memo about sending off-color jokes via email. Yes, that entire narrative is a grossly skewed and self-serving version of how society actually evolved. It doesn't matter.
The result is a combination of frustration and humiliation and powerlessness that makes us want to get it back in the only way we know how: with petty, immature acts of meanness.
"Now, maybe next time you'll remember who has the dick in this business."
#1. We Feel Powerless
I don't know what it's like to be a woman. I haven't been one in a long time. So as a result, it's not easy for me to describe what it's like to be a man, because I don't know what you're using for context. I'm going to do my best:
Did you ever watch old cartoons where a character is starving on a desert island, and when another character approaches, he's so hungry that he imagines the other character as a talking piece of food?
Via TV Tropes
Third panel omitted due to graphic content.
It's like that for most men, most of the time. We're starving, and all women are various types of food. Only instead of food, it's sex. And we're trying to conduct our everyday business around the fact that we're trying to renew our driver's license with a talking pair of boobs. So, from about age 13 on, around 90 percent of our energy and discipline is devoted to overcoming this, to behave like civilized human beings and not like stray dogs in a meat market. One where instead of eating the meat, they want to hump it.
Right now I'm reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman -- always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:
"When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest ..."
That's written from the woman's point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. "Janet walked her boobs across the city square. 'I can see them staring at my boobs,' she thought, boobily." He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Go look outside. See those cars driving by? Every car being driven by a man was designed and built and bought and sold with you in mind. The only reason why small, fuel-efficient or electric cars don't dominate the roads is because we want to look cool in our cars, to impress you.
We also assume you have the taste of a pimp.
Go look at a city skyline. All those skyscrapers? We built those to impress you, too. All those sports you see on TV? All of those guys learned to play purely because in school, playing sports gets you laid. All the music you hear on the radio? All of those guys learned to sing and play guitar because as a teenager, they figured out that absolutely nothing gets women out of their pants faster. It's the same reason all of the actors got into acting.
All those wars we fight? Sure, at the upper levels, in the halls of political power, they have some complicated reasons for wanting some piece of land or access to some resource. But on the ground? Well, let me ask you this -- historically, when an army takes over a city, what happens to the women there?
It's all about you. All of it. All of civilization.
Nope. Can't see a single symbolic thing about this illustration.
So where you see a world in which males dominate the boards of the Fortune 500, and own Congress, and sit at the head of all but a handful of the world's nations, men see themselves as utterly helpless. Because all of those powerful people only became powerful because they heard that women like power.
This is really the heart of it, right here. This is why no amount of male domination will ever be enough, why no level of control or privilege or female submission will ever satisfy us. We can put you under a burqa, we can force you out of the workplace -- it won't matter. You're still all we think about, and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.
"Now you squat down and crap your pants, or you never touch these boobs again."
All of the most bitter disputes work like this, by the way: Both sides think they're the powerless party. It's why tipping servers is such a bitter topic among some people -- the server feels like the customer has all of the power (because their entire income comes from tips), and the customer feels like the server has all the power (because they can deny them food and drink and ruin their one night out). It's why the richest people in the world can talk like they're besieged victims, and mean it. It's why the male leaders of the most powerful and richest church in the world can talk like they're being made martyrs due to women asking for birth control. And mean it.
Which brings us back to where we started. If you add all of this together, you get a world where this woman can testify before Congress about her friend suffering from ovarian cysts ...
... and a male political cartoonist will draw her like this:
David Wong is the Senior Editor of Cracked.com and the author of John Dies at the End and the even more ridiculously titled sequel This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don't Touch it, available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's, etc.
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Sunday, April 01, 2012
Published: March 30, 2012
If “The Marriage Plot,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention? Or would this novel (which I loved) have been relegated to “Women’s Fiction,” that close-quartered lower shelf where books emphasizing relationships and the interior lives of women are often relegated?
Certainly “The Marriage Plot,” Eugenides’s first novel since his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex,” was poised to receive tremendous literary interest regardless of subject matter, but the presence of a female protagonist, the gracefulness, the sometimes nostalgic tone and the relationship-heavy nature of the book only highlight the fact that many first-rate books by women and about women’s lives never find a way to escape “Women’s Fiction” and make the leap onto the upper shelf where certain books, most of them written by men (and, yes, some women — more about them later), are prominently displayed and admired.
Illustrations by Kelly Blair
Illustrations by Kelly Blair
This is a tricky subject. Bringing up the women’s question — I mean the women’s fiction question — is not unlike mentioning the national debt at a dinner party. Some people will get annoyed and insist it’s been talked about too much and inaccurately, and some will think it really matters. When I refer to so-called women’s fiction, I’m not applying the term the way it’s sometimes used: to describe a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and might well find a big, ready-made audience.
I’m referring to literature that happens to be written by women. But some people, especially some men, see most fiction by women as one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them.
Recently at a social gathering, when a guest found out I was a writer, he asked, “Would I have heard of you?” I dutifully told him my name — no recognition, fine, I’m not that famous — and then, at his request, I described my novels. “You know, contemporary, I guess,” I said. “Sometimes they’re about marriage. Families. Sex. Desire. Parents and children.”
After a few uncomfortable moments he called his wife over, announcing that she, who “reads that kind of book,” was the one I ought to talk to.
When I look back on that encounter, I see a lost opportunity. When someone asks, “Would I have heard of you?” many female novelists would be tempted to answer, “In a more just world.”
The truth is, women who write literary fiction frequently find themselves in an unjust world, even as young single women are outearning men in major American cities and higher education in the United States is skewing female.
As VIDA, a women’s literary organization, showed in February in its second annual statistical roundup, women get shockingly short shrift as reviewers and reviewees in most prestigious publications. Of all the authors reviewed in the publications it tracked, nearly three-fourths were men. No wonder that when we talk about today’s leading novelists — the ones who generate heat and conversation and are read by both men and women — we are talking mostly about men.
Exploring Amazon, I came across a category called “Women’s Fiction” where I am listed, along with Jane Austen, Sophie Kinsella, Kathryn Stockett, Toni Morrison, Danielle Steel and Louisa May Alcott. (Needless to say, Amazon fits us into other categories as well.) If there is a stylistic or thematic link to be found among us, it’s hard to see.
It should be noted that Amazon puts the occasional man in this category. Tom Perrotta is there, and so is Jonathan Franzen (albeit the Oprah’s Book Club edition of “Freedom”), which should provide yet more fodder for those who complain of his ubiquity.
Both men write about relationships and also about suburbia; is that why they’re included?
Amazon is clearly trying to help readers find titles they want. But any lumping together of disparate writers by gender or perceived female subject matter separates the women from the men. And it subtly keeps female writers from finding a coed audience, not to mention from entering the larger, more influential playing field. It’s done all the time, and not just by strangers at parties or by various booksellers that have no trouble calling interesting, complex novels by women “Women’s Fiction,” as if men should have nothing to do with them.
A writer’s own publisher can be part of a process of effective segregation and vague if unintentional put-down.
Look at some of the jackets of novels by women. Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house.
Compare these with the typeface-only jacket of Chad Harbach’s novel, “The Art of Fielding,” or the jumbo lettering on “The Corrections.” Such covers, according to a book publicist I spoke to, tell the readers, “This book is an event.” Eugenides’s gold ring may appear to be an exception, though it has a geometric abstraction about it: the Möbius strip ring suggesting that an Escher-like, unsolvable puzzle lies within.
The illustration might have been more conventional and included the slender fingers and wrist of a woman, had it not been designated a major literary undertaking.
I took semiotics back at Brown University in the same heyday of deconstruction in which Eugenides’s novel takes place (he and I were in a writing workshop together), but I don’t need to remember anything about signifiers to understand that just like the jumbo, block-lettered masculine typeface, feminine cover illustrations are code. Certain images, whether they summon a kind of Walker Evans poverty nostalgia or offer a glimpse into quilted domesticity, are geared toward women as strongly as an ad for “calcium plus D.”
These covers might as well have a hex sign slapped on them, along with the words: “Stay away, men! Go read Cormac McCarthy instead!”
I sometimes wonder if book length, intentionally or inadvertently, signals to readers a novel’s supposed importance. Certain novelists who have achieved high literary profiles, like David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami and William T. Vollmann, have all published extremely long books — in the case of Wallace and Vollmann, over 1,000 pages.
With some notable exceptions, women have not published many well-known doorstops since Doris Lessing’s “Golden Notebook.”
As it happens, we live not only in the era of the abbreviated attention span, but also in the era of the book group, whose members often set a strict page limit.
Yet does the marketplace subtly and paradoxically seem to whisper in some men’s ears, “Sure, buddy, run on as long as you like, just sit down and type out all your ideas about America” — what might in some extreme cases be titled “The Big Baggy Book of Me”?
Do women reflexively edit themselves (or let themselves be edited) more severely, creating tight and shapely novels that readers and book groups will find approachable? Or do they simply not fetishize book length one way or the other? (And for that matter, would most long-form men say they were just letting content seek form?)
All this isn’t to say megabooks are necessarily better; in their prolixity perhaps it’s easier for them to in fact be worse. But they are certainly louder.
Over centuries, the broad literary brush strokes and the big-canvas page have belonged mostly to men, whereas “craft” had belonged to women, uncontested. It’s no wonder that the painted-egg precision of short stories allows reviewers to comfortably celebrate female accomplishment, even to celebrate it prominently in the case of Alice Munro.
But generally speaking, a story collection is considered a quieter animal than a novel, and is tacitly judged in some quarters as the work of someone who lacks the sprawling confidence of a novelist.
My sense is that like most men, most women are writing at the length they want to write — but they’re not always getting the same reward.
Men like Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes have written very short, highly regarded and widely read books in recent years. Yet if a woman writes something short these days, particularly if it’s about a woman, it risks being considered minor. (“Spare” is the oft-used word of faint praise.) Yet if, on the other hand, a woman writes a doorstop filled with free associations about life and love and childbirth and war, and jokes and recipes and maybe even a novel-within-a-novel, and anything else that will fit inside an endlessly elastic membrane, she risks being labeled undisciplined and self-indulgent.
Sure, Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” is pretty massive, but I suspect that a historical work — one that teaches the reader about a subject (in this case a male one) — is considered more acceptable from a woman than, say, the kind of long “sensibility” novel written more frequently by men.
Julia Glass, who won a National Book Award in 2002 for her novel “Three Junes,” said: “Many readers ask why I write so often from a male point of view. I have theories, but I don’t really know. I don’t game my books toward a male audience, and yet the point of view may help their reception. I think men are more accepting of my books than they would be if the points of view were always female.”
Characters matter to a great extent, and novels that involve parents and young children seem at first glance to be considered the potentially sentimental province of women.
Except, of course, when those parents and children are male, as is the case in “The Road” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” both of which feature father-son duos and have been praised enthusiastically by men and women.
But some of the most acclaimed female novelists have written unapologetically and authoritatively about women. And the environment needs to be receptive to that authority, recognizing and celebrating it in order for it to catch.
It seems no coincidence that some of the most esteemed women writing today — Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Marilynne Robinson — came to prominence at an unusual moment in time when the women’s movement could be felt everywhere. Stories, long and short, and often about women’s lives, suddenly mattered to the cultural conversation. This period, the 1970s and to an extent the early ’80s, initially appeared to create an entirely different and permanent reality for female fiction writers.
Men were actively interested in reading about the inner lives of women (or maybe some just pretended they were) and received moral kudos for doing so.
Whereas before that a lone woman might be allowed on the so-called men’s team, literary women began achieving critical mass and becoming more than anomalies.
But though this wave of prominent authors helped the women who followed, as time passed it seemed harder for literary women to go the distance. As Katha Pollitt, the poet and literary critic, says: “I think there’s always space for a Toni Morrison or a Mary McCarthy, but only one of them at a time. For every one woman, there’s room for three men.”
Cue the thunderous disagreements and the counterinstances, of which there are always going to be a notable handful: Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith, being two current examples.
“A Visit From the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan, won both a 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and is rhapsodically talked about by both sexes. In 2009, Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer for her linked stories, “Olive Kitteridge,” a collection that book groups love and that women have reportedly given to the men in their lives, who have sometimes, to their own surprise, embraced it.
And, very occasionally, a true “event” is made out of a novel by a woman, most recently “The Tiger’s Wife,” by Téa Obreht.
These exceptions might lead us to think maybe we’re heading toward some kind of literary idyll in which men and women sit beneath trees in the sun, eating figs and debating passages by Kiran Desai or Jeanette Winterson.
But just as women are suddenly fighting anew for access to contraception, the VIDA statistics suggest that women writers are still fighting to have their work taken seriously and accorded as much coverage as men’s. The American Academy of Arts and Letters counts only 33 women among its 117 literature members. Even prestigious literary prizes don’t necessarily change everything.
In the past three years more than half of the National Book Critics Circle awards have gone to women, and in the past two years the National Book awards for fiction have gone to women — Jaimy Gordon and Jesmyn Ward — but so far neither has made an enormous cultural splash.
“I think the prizes for men just underscore something already there for them,” Lorrie Moore, the novelist and short-story writer, said. “In many cases the prizes themselves may not have as much independent power as corroborative power.”
Jane Smiley, who won a Pulitzer in 1992 for “A Thousand Acres,” said: “When I think about my own work, I think that it maybe falls between two stools, and sometimes this is good and sometimes it’s bad — not making the money that Jodi Picoult is making, not achieving the status of Franzen or Wallace.
"Nevertheless, one of the great things for our generation of women writers is the freedom we’ve felt to write about whatever subjects we wish to write about. Are we less innovative than the guys? I don’t see that. But if men aren’t much in the habit of reading women, then it doesn’t matter how innovative we are.”
Who reads whom and how were among the concerns raised in Francine Prose’s sharp 1998 essay in Harper’s Magazine, “Scent of a Woman’s Ink,” which employed a blind taste test to show that when you take away the gender label, it’s not all that easy to identify the author by sex.
“Fiction by women is still being read differently, with the usual prejudices and preconceptions,” she wrote. In doing so, she illustrated the continuing critical bias against women. “I wish I could say things had improved drastically since my Harper’s piece appeared,” Prose told me. “But it wouldn’t be true.”
Recently, when the novelist Mary Gordon spoke at a boys’ school, she learned that the students weren’t reading the Brontës, Austen or Woolf. Their teachers defended this by saying they were looking for works that boys could relate to. [And unable to "relate" to girls, women, and relationships?_NS] But at the girls’ school across the street, Gordon said, “no one would have dreamed of removing ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Moby-Dick’ from the syllabus. As a woman writer, you get points if you include the ‘male’ world in your work, and you lose points if you omit it.”
Lorrie Moore added, “A female scholar once said to me: ‘I already know what women think, pretty much. I’m more interested in reading books by men.”
The problem with this statement becomes clear if you flip it.
Were a man to say, “I already know what men think; I’m more interested in reading books by women,” he would be greeted with incomprehension.
While there may be no such thing as “male” or “female” writing, to say that the emphases of male and female writers might sometimes be different doesn’t mean that the deepest concerns or preoccupations of women are inferior or any less essential. Literary women novelists can of course do very well without male readers. And some literary male writers have admitted envying women the “femaleness” of the novel-reading (and -buying) community — a community that, from my own experience with book groups and individual readers, I know to be attentive and passionate.
People will remind you that women are the chief consumers of fiction in this country, and some will add that they think men are so hopeless when it comes to what they’ll read that perhaps we should forget about them as literary fiction readers altogether.
More than a few men are understandably offended by this suggestion, and will describe not only their Proust or Pynchon reading group, but also their all-male Edith Wharton book group, or their admiration for Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!” I hope that these men help spread the word, and that the word includes a shout-out to other brilliant women writers like Andrea Barrett, Kathryn Davis, Dana Spiotta, Zoë Heller, Carol Anshaw, Bonnie Nadzam, Rivka Galchen, Lauren Groff and Susan Choi, to name but a few among many, many others.
But the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male.
Will the literary habits of a culture change as younger readers take over?
Will more literary women be able to persuade their publishers to keep that photo of a longhaired young girl in a summer dress facing shyly away from the camera off their book jackets and replace it with a neutral illustration and bold typeface?
Will VIDA’s statistics dramatically improve?
And will “Women’s Fiction” become such an absurd category it’s phased out entirely? Maybe, in a more just world.
Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel is “The Uncoupling.” Her previous books include “The Ten-Year Nap,” “The Position” and “The Wife.”