Friday, September 6, 2013

Read what you want without apology: on the Paul Cook Kerfuffle, and misogyny vs misandry in f&sf

The kerfuffle du jour is about Paul Cook's When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction. The buzz words are "girl cooties" and "misogyny". Cook's post may make you roll your eyes wildly—mine spun. I think his silliest notion is that Orson Scott Card influenced Gene Wolfe. But that's not the reason for the kerfuffle.

Cook starts his piece by praising Marion Zimmer Bradley. He praises Lois Bujold's early work in the middle of the piece. In the comments, he says one of his favorite books is by Pamela Sergeant. And yet he's accused of being anti-female. The most roundly mocked part of his post is in this:
Bujold tips her hand in the eloquence of her language (normally a good thing) and the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors. All of this is right out of Alexander Dumas. True, these intrigues and flourishes do happen in the real world (or they used to), but Bujold, over time with novels such as Miles in Love and Cordelia’s Honor, you can see that Bujold is a closet romance writer. Not that this is a bad thing, but some of us aren’t that interested in romance.
Whether Cook's being ironic or sloppy when he says "attention to detail that only women would find attractive" is "right out of Alexander Dumas", I dunno. At that point, my eyes were still spinning over his distaste for The Shadow of the Torturer, and his not liking Dumas only made them spin harder. But I strongly suspect he knows Dumas was a male writer who is loved by male readers. So calling him misogynistic for not liking work that he says was influenced by Dumas seems odd to me, especially given his "not that this is a bad thing".

What Cook seems to like are Boy's Books. He doesn't like major romance plots, and he doesn't want fantasy tropes in his scifi. He has a traditional male taste in reading that I, a Dumas-lover who believes most great books include romance and who couldn't imagine writing a book without romance, simply don't get.

But I also don't get women who only or mostly like Girl's Books.

And that's fine. It's okay if you like the kinds of stories that are traditionally associated with your gender. Liking old school scifi is not misogynous; liking romance is not misandrous. No one should apologize for what they like to read.

For some people appalled by Cook's taste, my last sentence may be controversial. Would they mock a woman who chose to marry and stay home? Would they mock a man who supported her? It seems to me that in real diversity, there's room for everyone.

Perhaps the oddest criticism of Cook's post is that because he doesn't like zombies in steampunk, he's sexist. Or perhaps he's sexist because he doesn't like zombies and doesn't like romance. In any case, I agree that no one should recommend any zombie love stories to him.

There are people claiming they're speaking up and calling out because dangerous opinions must be opposed. But where is Cook's power? He's a geek in the old sense, someone who likes something that's not popular. He can't influence the field. If you're concerned about power, call out Patrick Nielsen Hayden or another white man who publishes a lot of books by white men with white men on their covers. I'll think you don't understand capitalism if you do, but at least you'll be bravely calling out someone with power in publishing.

ETA: Don't miss Emma's observation in the comments.