Monthly Archives: January 2013

Writing: Sexist SF Covers

sexist, feminism, objectifying women, sex sells

This made me laugh but it outlines the extreme of the difference between the way women are portrayed to men in comics and SF covers. Read this article for more insight.

I’ve talked about this before, the blatant objectification of women on book covers or in comic books. In my distant past I worked at (and edited a newsletter) a comic book and science fiction bookstore. There have always been comments in the comic book industry of the scantily clad women or those in skintight outfits, revealing every curve, indentation and nipple though they were supposedly wearing a costume that wasn’t painted on. In those days I made several relevant comments that while there was sexism of the women, there was also sexism of the men.

Superheros are made of heroic or amazonian proportions in almost all cases and all you have to do is talk to any professional comic artist to confirm this. A man or woman is more than you or me. They are perfectly built, well-muscled, super agile, larger than life. While the man package may not be emphasized as much in those tights because its considered too in-your-face (and indeed the ancient Greeks thought the small penis was the modicum of civilized decorum), a woman with larger than life, gravity-defying boobs (I use “boobs” intentionally here) is the norm. Most comic books are still geared toward the adolescent boy who is preoccupied with his growing awareness of the other (or same) sex, and of games. (Or so I’m told.)

I read a lot of comics and I always sneered at the improbable poses of women in stilettos with gaping holes in their costumes and nipples ready to tear through the fabric but who could still perform death-defying feats. You can find other posts on my site about superhero costumes.

book covers, SF, comic books, objectifying women, sexism, victims, submissive women

Jim Hines makes fun of SF covers that objectify women but he does it for a good cause.

But as we go on to book covers, I remember good old Red Sonja. She was Conan’s female counterpart, wore a chainmail bikini and carried a sword. Now I want to point out that Conan wore little more than a fur loincloth himself so they  were equally unarmored and nearly nekkid.

But this title transitions us to book covers, where Conan books and comic books existed. There were the infamous Gor books in the 70s an 80s and after awhile I refused to bring them into the bookstore because not only did they objectify women on the cover, the stories were also all about slave women victims.

Whereas comic books have their heroes of each gender portrayed in their form revealing outfits, and women jutting out body parts that would kill their backs, SF covers tend to  have a still larger imbalance with more women depicted as sexy whatevers than men. Writer Jim Hines has tried to point this out by doing  poses as seen on SF covers. They’re hilarious but he’s proving a point. While many SF covers now portray other things, creatures or events, women are still disproportionately exemplified as sexy, sexy and a victim, sexy and deadly. Female warriors still get to wear less armor than males.

sexist poses, sexploitation, Jim Hines, objectifying women

I cannot do better than just showing what Hines is doing. Go read his blog.

Jim Hines has pointed out that even something as innocuous (we think) as a woman just standing and facing the viewer on a cover can still be sexist. And indeed, every pose has a chest thrust out or a hip cocked with a hand on it. Basically all women must be vixens who can seduce you to death or maintain sexy while maiming you. This includes pop tops, midriffs, short skirts, high heels and cleavage.

While there is some improvement since the early days of SF, there is also some regression with Hollywood’s and advertising’s attempt to sexualize everything! Pulp covers are one thing, but there is still room for a lot of improvement in today’s fiction covers. Next time you pick up a fantasy or SF book see if you can spot the sexploitation.

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Hawksely Workman: The God That Comes

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

I meant to write about this right away but I’ve been busy. Last week, I got to see Hawksley Workman in The God That Comes, part of Vancouver’s PuSh Festival. It took place at Performance Works on Granville Island. When I bought the (very reasonable) tickets all I knew was that I liked Hawksley Workman’s music. I have two of his albums (For Him and the Girls, Between the Beautifuls). But I didn’t know if the piece at the festival was music, or a play or both. And in a way, it was indeed both, a work in progress.

I was surprised to see how intimate the performance space was, set up like a lounge or cabaret. The venue also doubled as Club PuSh where you could hang after, drink and dance to DJ tunes. The show was introduced by a drag queen, who I believe called herself the Queen of East Van. She was done up with a wild black mop of hair and a slinky, leopard print shiny, long gown. As the show began I knew exactly why a drag queen opened this show and why she was dressed as she was.

Workman’s show is described as:

Hawksley Workman, Bacchus, Dionysus, wine, music, maenads

Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, theatre and madness.

It tells the story of a king whose subjects revolt against his oppressive rule to worship the Greco-Roman god of wine Bacchus (aka Dionysus) in a hedonistic spiritual revolution. This concept album for the stage, created with 2b Theatre Company’s Christian Barry is a work-in-progress that fuses the chaotic revelry of a rock concert with the intimacy of theatrical storytelling.

Hawksley Workman began by coming out on a stage festooned drums, a keyboard, various stringed and other instruments and three sytrofoam wig heads on stands. One wore an ash-blonde flip-style wig, one a red boa, and one a military hat. There was also a white, headless mannequin in a red strapless dress. Hawksley was wearing a jacket with military style in its lines.

He first read a story, with a glass of wine in hand, about a king who is suspicious of his people frolicking in the hills with a new god. Even his mother is going, so he dresses up as a woman and, unrecognized, is torn apart. This is the short version of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek play by Eurpides, about the mythological King Pentheus who meets the new god Dionysus and his followers, the women who become maenads.

Maenads were to be feared. These followers of Dionysus embraced his divine madness and were rumored to tear apart animals and mortals in their ecstatic, wine-induced frenzy. While there is no evidence of the dismembering of humans or animals ever happening  the maenadic and Dionysian rituals did indeed take place.

Workman’s one-man show included songs that covered the king’s feelings, his military might, his curiosity and fear, his demise. It also covers the ecstasy of Dionysus and how Dionysus was viewed. Unlike the twelve Olympian gods or the Titans before them, Dionysus was originally a foreign god, chthonic and believed to have come from another culture. He was depicted with ivy and grapes wound in his black hair, often wearing women’s dress, which, in ancient Greece, meant a different cut of chiton to the men’s chiton, and effeminate of feature.  He was the androgyne that women followed. For a culture that constrained women, this appealed to their wild side and they were allowed to indulge it during his festival. Dionysus’ myth includes being torn apart himself by the Titans and ingested and reborn. In fact, he is one of a long string of dying and reborn gods and precedes Jesus. Now it begins to make sense why the drag queen was perfect for introducing the show.

maenad, gods, Dionysus, Hawksley Worrkman, frenzy, divine ecstasy, mad god

Maenads were female followers of Dionysus who celebrated in ecstatic frenzy.

Hawksley Workman’s songs ranged from impassioned and tragic to hysterically funny as when he sang Ukelele Boy, about Dionysus. For another piece he picks up the top half of the dressed torso and then plays a harmonica positioned beneath the dress so that it looks very sexual to the audience who see’s his head at the level of the genitals. When Pentheus discovers the maenadic orgy, Workman takes a well-known line “my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord” and tosses it  on its side, giving more meanings to what type of coming is happening.

For the ecstatic ritual he sings, “Won’t your ride with me…our feet pound the earth with pleasure so deep…won’t your ride with me.” This lead into Workman stomping out a staccato rhythm with his feet and two poles in his hands. Very deep, very visceral. After the maenads realize they have torn apart the king, Hawksley’s lines include “Can you believe that his blood came out red?” and “salt in his tears.” Note that I was mesmerized and writing notes in the dark so these lines could be off a bit.

Hawksley Workman used the heads as props, sometimes wearing the boa or the hat, sometimes talking to the head. Under his modern vest he wore a purple shirt and one of his instruments had a leopard skin patterned strap. All of these small details, including that glass of wine, were significant as they are symbols of Dionysus; red, purple, leopards (Dionysus is almost always shown with a leopard skin across his shoulder), wine.

The performance was wacky, invigorating, funny, sad, and extremely original. I’ve liked Workman’s music before because of the originality of the tunes and the lyrics. The God That Comes blended this well, and showed his creative genius. He definitely researched Dionysus and the Maenads and embraced them to write such a powerful show. This touched me on several levels. I intimately know the tale of Dionysus and the maenads. I do hope this comes out as an album, but I wished I could have seen the show again. I’ve already told several friends to watch for Workman if he’s come to their city. He’s worth seeing and I very much appreciated being close enough to feel part of the show. I raise ten glasses of wine to Hawksley Workman. And I can say that I may have been the only person sitting there that night who has been a maenad. Io Dionysus.

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WordPress Bushwhacked Me

The other day, as I was inserting images into my posts, I noticed I had multiples of the same image. You know, the books, the quills, and all those specific images for my posts over the years.

And I saw, with the new way WordPress brings up media files that I can now click and insert an image from a previous post, hence I only needed one version of the quill or the book. So I had a cleanup day, and I deleted and deleted and deleted. I won’t need that picture of the food from the Apocalypse Diet again, so away it goes. I won’t need the image of the genital bleaching graphic, so it went too. Wholesale purge of the image files, because, you know, there is only limited space that WordPress gives you for those images.

Today, I was writing a comment onto another list and wanted to include a link to a previous post. I googled my post and it came up, but no pictures. What? Is the internet acting up? Is there a wordpress glitch? Search back and forth and then the horrible realization hits. I wasn’t just deleting multiple images from my media files; I was deleting the links to the images. WAH!

Dear WordPress, why not have a warning for those of us that don’t understand that we must always always always keep the image in our files or it goes bye-bye from our posts? Why not have something so that when I click “Delete Image” a little note comes up and says, “Deleting this image will remove it from your blog post. Are you sure you want to continue?” Sob* I’m really cranky now and will possibly replace some of the images. But… Geeze. The grief. So I’m sorry if you find a post of mine and it’s blah with missing pictures. Send me a message and I’ll try to erect another image or a big sad face because it’s gone forever.

Grrrr.

I should add, that if this happens to you, you can get some of them back. The pictures won’t show in your post but if you happened to put a caption and alternate text tag words, you can highlight the spot in the post, copy it and do a google search for your caption. Add in the name of your blog and you can narrow down the images. Your image will show in Google. You can then upload it again to the blog. Paste in your copied caption and you won’t have to rewrite it. Still a pain but it’s not completely lost. I’m going to slowly put the pics back, when my posts come up on the stats pages as the most look at. So Starbucks and the Censored Mermaid, and How to Wear Skirts and Manskirts now have their pictures back.

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Writing: Romances, the Pride and the Shame

writing, novels, writers, authors, Harlequin, romance novels, writing and working

Making fun of Harlequin covers is a favorite past time of some, and could be one reason my friend doesn’t want it known she wrote romance novels.

I’ve was talking to a friend of mine who in the distant past wrote and sold several novels to Harlequin. She did this at a time in her life when she was a single mother of two  and was trying to support them while putting herself through school. She is an artist who does beautiful paintings now.

Now the interesting thing is that Harlequin is viewed by some as low brow and by others as prestige. Low brow because we’re just reading those trashy romances and if you write a trashy romance, well, you’re not a real writer. Prestige because Harlequin pays quite well, is a successful publisher and you’ve written for Harlequin. Perspective, you see. I have another friend writing and trying to sell romances right now and she thinks it’s a great thing to do.

Harlequin as a publisher is one of North Americas more stable publishing houses. Writers tend to be paid fairly well because Harlequin has a high sell-through. Although the stories might be a paper chick flick and perhaps formulaic in the guy and gal always get each other in the end, there is a lot of range in their romance novels these days from mildly titillating to downright penetrative, in all senses of the term. Harlequin has been branching out as well into fantasy and other genres, whether werewolves, vampires or some other creature that goes bump in the night and indeed they still must go bump. I did sell one story to a Harlequin fairy tale anthology and of course it was romantic and/or erotic.

The Romance Writers of America is not only a well-attended association of writers and would-be writers but also brings in top agents and writers to local conferences. I know several people who have joined the RWA just for these aspects, even if they do not write romance. Basically romance today is not your mother’s romance.

So, this conversation with my friend was quite interesting. I present it here, edited because she does not want her name revealed. In fact I have never ever been able to find out what name she wrote under and I’m only one of a few people who even know she wrote romances.

No, I don’t care if folks think of me as what I am. ;D ….. I mean that’s how I caught my beloved D by being wild and lascivious, isn’t it?

Well that’s a lie…at least the part about me not being embarrassed about people really knowing who I am. Just so you know…I do not tell anyone the name I wrote under because I did it for the money…and only the money for my girls. When I do speak of my writing it is mostly because I really want the person I’m talking to , to understand that I really do understand the pressures of creating something salable, like a story or a book…for a paycheck.

My writing was an act of desperation. I wrote like an East End drug addicted prostitute whores herself. I

writing, juggling work, writing romance novels, Romance Writers of America, Harlequin romances

My friend juggled a job, going to school, raising two girls and writing romance novels. Creative Commons: Misty de Vries, Mercator

had  two kids to feed and  I needed to earn more money. I had no child support and a barely above min. wage job. I started writing  after work when the girls were in bed, I wrote on the bus going to work, lunch breaks at the store, I wrote on a scribbler, took it home and then wrote it up of the typewriter later that night (yes, she did all this before computers). Being dyslexic, it was like slavery. I had to concentrate so hard even when I was utterly bagged. I had no grace, no time to muck about and, God help me, if I screwed it up because then  my children would go without. So I wrote what I knew would sell and did it as quickly as I could type up the pages. I could not think of another way to earn enough money to look after T and K. I was so tired all the time my writing could not be the least jot original. I was caught between the rock and the hard place with no help. My family would not help me. I had shamed them with my divorces. My mother cut me off, not that she had ever supported me but she made it clear, as she said, I had made my bed …. If I was broke, it was my fault. As a solution I turned to writing because it was  something I could crank out while being at home with my children.

My writing is not something of which, I was ever proud. That is not to say I am not proud of the accomplishment of using my wits to take care of the girls.

I am.

But I was  not  nor ever will be, a  writer. I was, by  some miracle and a short period of time,  an adequate hack, which is something else entirely.

Also It was not a happy time for me. And the whole writing thing is forever tainted in my mind with all of that  desperate hungry  unhappiness.

A few years ago when my health took a little turn I tried writing again; but this time I tried to write stories I might want to read. I tried a lot, then some more… I tried and tried.

I went back to drawing.

So at last, I will get to the  point, I will enthusiastically pass on my recommendations. And for your piece of mind. I will also run them through the spell checker… so they won’t think an idiot wrote them. Don’t you love computers!

Talk about stress! A part of me wishes I had never said anything or agreed to  your request.

So… to the issue at hand. There were 5 in all.

She has her reasons for not feeling she was a writer, and she feels her novels were not very good. I’ve never read them (or any Harlequin) for that matter, so I don’t know the quality. However, I told her that she was an inspiration…because she wrote, and finished several novels and sold them. That in itself is a great accomplishment. I know because I’ve been working on my second novel for ten years! I plan on finishing it by April because it’s getting ridiculous. So while my friend feels she was a hack who wrote to survive, I wish I could write as a full-time job. These days it’s even harder to sell something because there are so many more people writing and computers and the internet made it easier. But I’ll still hold my friend in high regard, even if I never find out what she wrote or what name she wrote under.

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Body Adornment or Modification

body adoarnment, body modification, piercing, tattoos, body ornaments, fetish,

This image shows to types of body decoration, neither permanent: jewelery and mehndi. Creative Commons: Henna Designs

I’ve had some interesting comments on the post about genital bleaching. Some people defend it as just another way of decorating ourselves, such as having tattoos or piercings. This is actually inaccurate. While a tattoo or a piercing is a body modification, it is also body adornment or decoration. True, there are some piercings that veer from being only decoration (and used for enhancement of sensations or fetishism–bondage, humiliation, etc.) but for the majority it is about decorating the body in some way.

This is extreme body adornment and modification. Creative Commons Boing Boing

This is extreme body adornment and modification. Creative Commons Boing Boing

It’s true that humanity has been doing this as long as we’ve been building shelters and making things. Stuff…adornments, decorations, artifacts are what define civilizations. It’s an inherent part of our nature. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a vibrant fashion industry, laws and rules throughout the ages regulating clothing and dyes and styles, nor many types of jewellery. So, yes humans have been decorating themselves forever and continue to do so except for those religions that try to suppress human nature.

But a pure body modification is not necessarily adornment. Sometimes it’s a medical necessity, such as a disfigurement that is painful or limiting of a person’s movement. It might be surgery after an illness, disease or accident that requires a modification. Or it might be for decoration. Obviously, piercings modify the body’s structure to some degree. Any piercing you can see is one of decoration, though it can mean more. Those that you can’t see, such as breasts, genitalia or the subcutaneous implants might be body adornment as well. Like I said, some people do these piercings for ritualistic or fetishistic reasons. It may give them a sexual thrill, indicate they are into some form of fetishistic situation such as domination or submission, be a form of emotional catharsis, or be part of a religious practice.

I suppose anal bleaching could be religious. I certainly don’t know all of the spiritual practices out there. However, it seems that unless you’re a porn star where your butthole is displayed on screen that in fact it’s not decoration, so comparing a pierced ear or a tattooed arm to a bleached anus is not the same thing at all. I’d be happy to hear arguments that indicate this falls under decorating the body as opposed to modifying. Yes, both could be seen as forms of beautification and can definitely fall under fetish, or body modification. In this case when one has a nose job, a scar removed, a circumcision, a breast implant, or the genitalia bleached, it is body modification, whether it is for health reasons or vanity. I will still maintain that a person who worries that their labia isn’t pretty enough or their butthole of the right shade, has got their priorities mixed up.

skin bleaching, vanity, body modification, adornment, skin, blemishes

Skin whitening can be done to remove discolorations caused by sun or birthmarks but do you really need it where the sun don’t shine? Creative Commons: Tribune

This sort of worry is what creates a society where anorexia runs rampant, where we’re stuck on any flaw or imperfection as bad because we watch movies or look at magazines where people are lit, done up in make up and airbrushed to godlike proportions. Relationships become harder to maintain because they’re based on superficial forms of attraction. This isn’t about being confident; it’s about lacking confidence so much that you worry about what anyone will think of every aspect of your body.

We’re losing perspective. Personality and being human is what really matters, and going down the road of worrying about the shade of your genitalia, how your pubic hair curls, whether your toenails grow the right thickness and if your neck is long enough is trying to change how we were born. It’s an unending battle and a slippery slope. Michael Jackson is a fine example of someone who couldn’t stop trying to be someone else, to the point of having extreme cosmetic surgery and bleaching his skin so he looked less black. His talent was in his voice and his musical skills. His downfall was in his quest to be someone else.

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Writing News: Story Genesis

Well, Happy New Year, everyone. I’ve been a bit slow out of the gate and just a little busy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m co-editing Tesseracts 17. Eventually I’ll post some demographics here such as how many submissions from different regions, how many men and women, poetry to fiction, ghost stories, future SF, etc. etc. I’m working on another proposal with someone and there will be more news on that once everything is confirmed.

anthology, dark fiction, fantasy, horror, writing, publishing, Deep Cuts, Dean Drinkel

Demonologia Biblica, coming in February

In the meantime, stay tuned. I have three stories coming out in February:

  • “Red is the Color of My True Love’s Blood” in Deep Cuts, Evil Jester Press
  • “Tower of Strength” in Irony of Survival, Zharmae Publishing
  • “P is for Phartouche: The Blade” in Demonologia Biblica, Western Legends Publishing

“Tower of Strength” is an alternate history tale during Biblical times, and the other two are darker tales though “The Blade” has some redemption in it. “The Blade” came about originally from an exercise. Back when I was in an offshoot, sporadic and short-lived writing group we did an exercise to write about an inanimate object. I wrote a page or two about a blade.

 

books, fantasy, dark fiction, Michael Moorcock

The Elric books, from Ace, with the covers I loved.

This was inspired in part by Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series that I read eons ago. I love the books (I think there were six but relatively slim tomes) about an albino lord of another world, elven or elven like, who was cursed to own a blade that demanded blood. When he pulled the sword, he was all-powerful but it demanded to be fed and took the lives of many. Elric was feared and had lost those he loved. He hated the blade but was tied inevitably to it, cursed to always carry it.

It’s been a long time since I read the Elric books but they stuck with me and I had a poster for years because I loved the art on the covers. But when I wrote the exercise from the blade’s point of view (whereas Elric was the viewpoint character), I stopped after those two pages because I had no idea what to do with it. It sat for quite a few years but I never throw out those half formed ideas. Then last fall I had an idea on how to finish the story, how to take that blade’s personality and make it so that it controlled the character, the inanimate animating the animate.

Then Dean Drinkel, editor for Demonologia Biblica sent me an invite. I met Dean at British Fantasy Con in 2011. The anthology is a collection of tales about demons from A-Z. What better way to describe a blade that possesses a personality and a taste for blood. So this tale while perhaps not a demon of flesh and blood, is about a demon that does possess flesh and blood. It fit well enough for the anthology it’s almost as if a demon laid in the idea for me to finish it, just before Dean contacted me. Fairly perfect timing. I’m sure this will be available online so stay tuned.

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