Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Commentary, Take Two

I had hoped that the intent of my last post would be obvious - especially given my track record as a reviewer and fan commentator - but as soon as I posted the link on Facebook, argument erupted again. In the interest of addressing certain misunderstandings that cropped up over the course of that thread, here is a quick list of things I'm pretty sure I did not say:
  • John Ringo should stop doing what he's doing. On the contrary, as evidenced by the extremely positive review I just gave the Black Tide Rising series, I want Ringo to continue writing in the military SF genre for many years to come; the style clearly suits his personality and he is very, very good at it.
  • John Ringo is writing women wrong. When I remarked that Ringo tends to write "men with tits," I was not using that descriptor in a pejorative sense. In fact, I was using it the way Ringo himself has used it in panel discussions on writing "strong female characters." As he's noted in the past, when women are working with men in dangerous, high-stress environments, they instinctively damp down their feminine qualities so as not to distract their male colleagues. They become - and again, these are Ringo's own words - "guys with tits" because to do otherwise is to risk getting themselves killed. And this, actually, was the core argument of my previous post: Ringo is not writing women wrong because he's writing a very particular type of woman who fits into a very specific context.
  • Ringo's women are "average." There's one especially annoying poster who keeps citing examples that "prove" that women are weaker than men (and that, by extension, Ringo's female characters are ridiculous concessions to feminist dogma). Well, duh. We all know that women-in-the-aggregate are weaker than men-in-the-aggregate and that a woman who hits the 99th percentile for women in strength and fitness would probably still be beat by a man in the 99th percentile for men. We also know that women-in-the-aggregate are less likely than men-in-the-aggregate to opt for a career in killing people and breaking things -- or to opt for a career that involves physical danger of any kind. That's why, as conservatives, we tend not to worry about "gender parity" in the professions: We recognize that there are inborn differences between the sexes and that these differences will impact job choices later in life. But authors don't write about aggregates. They write about individuals -- and as many folks have been trying to get through the aforementioned gentleman's thick skull, the individual women who play dominant roles in a Ringo-type story are not going to reflect the inclinations and skills of women-in-the-aggregate because if they did, they really would look ludicrous. The characters have to fit the setting -- and if you're talking about a Ringo book, the setting is NOT average. (And if it's this poster's intent to claim that no women should appear in a military-SF setting, then he's wrong. While they are unusual, women who fit Ringo's "type" do exist.)
  • More average women should be shoe-horned into military SF.  In my peroration, I wrote that we should "come up with story ideas and settings that demand skill sets of our female characters that go beyond the physical." That phrasing was chosen very carefully and for a specific reason: I did not want to suggest that authors should artificially squeeze more "feminine" women into a story where they don't belong. Again, the characters have to fit the setting -- which means to get a broader snapshot of the female experience, we will need to come up with a broader range of story ideas. We've been joking around on Facebook about writing stories of SF housewives programming lunchboxes (because a bunch of us saw that and immediately thought, "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED"), but in all seriousness: Technological change will impact the hearth and home in profound ways, and there's no reason why we shouldn't explore those realities. Said stories are likely to be quieter and more reflective, but that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be interesting.
  • People should be forced to write and/or read things I'd like to see. I'm not an SJW, guys. If military SF and action/adventure is your wheelhouse and you have no interest in writing/reading anything else, fair enough: You can ignore my suggestion secure in the knowledge that I won't judge you a bad-dog-dirty-male for liking what you like. (Hell, I like a lot of that stuff myself!)  My post was addressed more to those conservative authors and readers who are looking for something a little different (and notice I said different, not "better" or "superior") and are, perhaps, interested in challenging the badass/victim dichotomy (not that there's anything wrong with the badass end of that scale).   
Okay: After all of those qualifications and extensions, is my position now perfectly clear? If not, feel free to ask me follow-up questions in the comments.


  1. Average people don't belong in fiction.

    Also, not to contradict Mr. Ringo, but when he says that women working beside men in dangerous, high-stress situations come to seem like men with tits...well, the "dangerous" qualifier is unnecessary. (And "high-stress" only matters if you measure stress against a baseline of the sort of stress that's typically attached to the kind of work women most commonly do for money.) Happens _all the bloody time_, even in situations not nearly interesting enough to write novels about.

  2. It basically happens any time women feel like they're entering a boys club, for one. As an atmospheric scientist (78% women when last measured, but improving some of late, thankfully), I can tell you that the women in my college programs and even in my workplace are more guys-with-tits than people might expect.

  3. lelnet: "Average people don't belong in fiction." True -- but there are many ways to be out of the ordinary. ;)

    And to both lelnet & SABR Matt: Yes -- I think you're both right. When women enter a male-dominated field of ANY kind, they WILL become more masculine to fit in and become "one of the guys." And honestly, I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that.