Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Misogyny in SF/F – Some Thoughts

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This last weekend I attended the local MALcon just a few minutes down the road from my house. I only went on Saturday, to see if it was something I’d like to participate in in the future, and with departure for Loncon just days away, I didn’t want to spend too much time away from home. On the whole it was rather enjoyable; quite small, but there was a good variety of panels on writing and topics of interest to me.

DCF 1.0I was particularly interested in the panels on powder keg topics and misogyny in SF/F. The latter one had only two men scheduled to be on the panel, so I was invited to join them up front, but I declined because I’m not good talking about political topics, even the ones I’m passionate about. They did find a really well-spoken woman from the audience (I’m pretty sure she was a scientist) to join them in the discussion. My one disappointment though was that the topic got so derailed onto gender differences being cultural vs genetic that we seemed to spend very little time actually discussing misogyny and bigotry in the SF/F field. Near the end, the discussion turned finally to the problems women and minority writers face in the field, but mostly to talk about how boys won’t read female narratives and how women writers can get boys to engage with their SF/F. It was suggested that writers could start out with male characters then ease them into female characters.

While I’m in favor of trying to get boys to read more female narratives, my personal feeling is that this method is just more of the status quo: female characters must be propped up by male characters. And what about adult fiction? Must we hand-hold men lest they scoff and close the book? Should I have made the Bone Flower Trilogy a mixed narrative of both Quetzalpetlatl and Topiltzin’s POV, even though Topiltzin’s story has been told over and over again, in hundreds of years of myths and even in modern books such as K. Michael Wright’s Tolteca or Kenneth Morris’s The Chalchiuhite Dragon? Maybe I should have, then I wouldn’t have been told by a big publishing house that my story was “too feminist” for their predominately male epic fantasy audience. Despite all this, I have no regrets about making Bone Flower Quetzalpetlatl’s story rather than Topiltzin’s; her voice was one lost to time and reduced to little more than a tool for the amusement and ambitions of male gods. This method of couching female narratives through the filter of men and their experiences feels an awful lot like telling stories about native cultures through the eyes of their white colonizers, so the perceived predominately-white audience has someone to grab onto and relate to without having to do any work on a personal and cultural level (and man did discussion of this particular literary device cause a yelling match on a panel at WorldCon in Reno a few years back! I thought one panelist’s head was going to explode when a female panelist said that was a crappy way to write about alien cultures, or other human cultures, for that matter).

Because of the direction of the panel for most of the hour, we didn’t get into much discussion about the negatives of this approach, or what other options are available to writers, which is a pity. These are important discussions to have. From my own experience, there’s multiple points where blockades are put up against women/minorities and their stories; most are cultural and will be extremely difficult to overcome, but some are inherent to the capitalistic nature of publishing and are perhaps a bit more easily changed. Readers can only read what is available to them, and if publishers are not publishing women/minority writers/stories, then readers aren’t going to see them. The chance for exposure and change is being cut off at the source in favor of narratives that are “safe money-makers”. I often hear people defend the status quo by telling those complaining, “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go write the stories you want to read then?” Newsflash: lots of writers do this, but those stories aren’t being published because they aren’t the safe, time-tested product that publishers know they can rely on to sell. Thank goodness for self-publishing and small presses these days, or else truly deserving and compelling narratives–like Sabrina Vourvoulias’s Ink–would never see the light of day. I’m torn on the whole publisher part of this equation; I understand their need to turn a profit so they can publish more books and not go under, but at the same time that very factor is contributing to the silencing of important narratives and stalling the expansion of the art form, based mostly on an inkling of what does and doesn’t sell (not to mention that often when they do take a chance on a non-status quo book, they don’t put the necessary push behind it to help it succeed in the competitive marketplace because of fear of investing too much money and losing it all).

file4501243625430Culturally speaking though, we need to teach boys from a young, young age that women’s/girls’ stories are worthwhile, and provide them with a multitude of narratives throughout their early lives, and get away from the whole “this is for boys, this is for girls” BS. Girls are already being taught from early on that men’s narratives are as worthwhile as women’s narratives (sometimes even more so than women’s), so we should be doing the same with boys. To me, it comes down to parenting, and is supplemented by teachers at the elementary school level. The more we expose children to a multitude of view points, the more open-minded they will be as adults.

One of the panel members mentioned a comic he saw on Facebook where two skeletons were sitting at a table holding beers and the caption said something like “what happens when men sit down to try to understand women”, and pretty much every woman in the room agreed that it was stupidest thing they’d ever heard, but also not surprising. Boys are taught from a very early age that they should only immerse themselves in things considered male while avoiding things perceived as female lest it taint their masculinity, so no wonder they grow to view women as mysterious. Quite honestly, if men want to understand women better, they can start by reading women characters and writers, and reading those genres supposedly geared towards women. Read a romance, read an epic fantasy that follows the lives of female characters rather than male characters, read mysteries with female sleuths–like Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books–and read literary fiction centered around female characters. And even better, seek out books from minority female writers about the female experience. One will soon find out that women are not inscrutable and mysterious, but are in fact human beings, and in turn their relationships with their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, their wives, their daughters, and their female friends will greatly improve. This doesn’t mean giving up reading the comfortable male narratives they enjoy, just expanding their reading horizons to include more challenges to one’s view of the world. Let us teach our sons that not only is Harry Potter’s story awesome and meaningful to their lives, but so is Katniss Everdeen’s; Superman and Batman are awesome, but Buffy kicks ass too. If we do this, then there will be more demand for Katnisses and Buffys, and then maybe publishing will take more chances on female narratives in epic fantasy, comics, and hard science fiction (places where androcentrism is currently at its strongest).

Men, stop living your whole literary life in safe comfort and the selfishness culture has taught you, because your comfortable reading habits are making things more difficult for those of us who don’t have the privilege of being white male cis. Be part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And women and minority authors, continue writing your narratives and trying to get them heard, no matter what publishing or the broader culture tries to tell you about their worth. Keep fighting the good fight, for your stories deserve to be told and heard.

History and Culture: The Ritual Ballgame

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Tepantitla_mural,_Ballplayer_A_(Daquella_manera)

Painting of a ballplayer from a mural in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Yesterday was America’s biggest sports day, Super Bowl Sunday, and as a Broncos fan, it was a miserable time. But there was one good thing that happened yesterday: while skimming my Facebook news feed during the game, I found a very cool video of the Mesoamerican ritual ballgame. To the Aztecs it was known as Tlachtli, and if you look at it strictly from a popularity point of view, it was their equivalent of football. People were known to lose everything they owned betting on this game, and it was a sport enjoyed by both the poorest and richest alike. The game had great religious meaning as well; the Ritual Ballgame was the favorite sport of the gods, and the Mayan Hero Twins were famous for having taken on the gods and beaten them.

The Ritual Ballgame plays an important part at one point in The Bone Flower Throne, to determine which of two brothers will inherit the throne of Xochicalco after their father dies. The one in the video linked below is played by slightly different rules, but the basic rules was that players couldn’t touch the rubber ball with either hands or feet while it was in play, and they often wore specialized yokes and elbow and knee pads to make it easier to bounce the ball around. In BFT, the players aren’t allowed to let the ball hit the ground nor could they climb the walls of the field, whereas in the game in the video both of those are allowed.

Click here to see the video (unfortunately the owner doesn’t allow embedding)

To find out more about the Ritual Ballgame, this website is a particularly good resource.

 

Bone Flower Throne on Scalzi’s The Big Idea

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the-bone-flower-throne-displayI got the opportunity to talk about my new novel The Bone Flower Throne over at John Scalzi’s blog, so if you’re curious about what inspired the story and why it took me four years to get it finished, hop on over there and give it a read. Here’s a little sample:

I’m an Aztec geek; whether it’s history or mythology, I devour it all. It’s a love affair that began in college and has taken over my fiction writing life. It gives me immense joy to immerse myself into that world, digging up the forgotten treasures and intrigues, and finding voices and figures my high school history and English classes never bothered to mention.

Like Quetzalpetlatl, the most famous woman no one knows anything about: the woman the gods used to ruin Mesoamerica’s greatest hero.

Food in Mesoamerica – The Four Staples (History)

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Mexican food is probably my favorite food there is; I love burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and chile rellenos, though I do find it difficult to handle the hotter sauces (I blame my having grown up eating a steady diet of bland American food). Much of the Mexican food eaten in the United States isn’t authentic Mexican food, but rather Tex-Mex, an Americanized cuisine heavy with cheeses and meats and uses non-Mexican spices such as cumin. Though even authentic Mexican food is different from the true authentic foods of the Americas. The diets of the Pre-Conquest native tribes were broad and flavorful, and while they greatly influenced modern Mexican cuisine, much has gone missing. Over the course of several blog posts, we’ll take a look at food in Mesoamerica, starting with the basic stables of the Mesoamerican diet: maize, beans, squash, and chile.

Food in Mesoamerica - Maize

Maize came in all manner of colors and shapes.

Maize – The Most Important Cereal

The maize plant was domesticated early in human history and practically every part of the plant is edible at one stage or another. The Aztecs made sweet drinks from it, or ground it and added it to water to make atole, a sort of watery-mash consumed daily at the noon hour. They had countless varieties of tlaxcala (tortillas), each made from a different type of maize, and they there were just as many varieties of tamales, made with various meats and maize dough wrapped in maize husks, for easy transportation. During times of famine, they even ate the tassels. There was no more important ingredient in all the Americas than maize, and this is reflected in how many tribes worshiped it in deity form; Centeotl to the Aztecs, “First Father” to the Maya, and Zaramama to the Inca.

Food in Mesoamerica - beans

Beans, beans, the magical fruit….

Beans – the Protein Powerhouse

The domestication of beans in the New World began around the time of Christ and the Aztecs used a wide variety in their food as a primary source of protein. They were mostly boiled and eaten in stews, though they were also baked and ground into powder for later reconstitution. Some of the common and most popular beans were string beans, Lamon, ayacotli (scarlet runner), and sieva beans. The Lamon bean in particular became a big hit with the Italians and stories speak of them being among the tribute sent to the Pope by Charles V after the conquering of the Americas.

Food in Mesoamerica - squash

Aztec nobility drank their chocolate in calabash cups.

Squash – the Earliest Dinnerware

Squash finishes out the traditional triad of Mesoamerican foodstuffs. Domestication of squash plants predates the invention of pottery in the Americas, for hollowed out calabash gourds were used as cups and bowls even as late as the Aztec period. Like maize, the Mesoamericans utilized practically all parts of the plant, eating them either cooked or raw, but the most important part of the squash was the seeds, which could be boiled, or baked then ground into powder to make sauces or added to water or juice.

Food in Mesoamerica - chile

If you were a naughty child, your mother might have held you over these while they roasted.

Chile – the Forgotten Staple

The final staple is the chile. Most historians only name maize, beans, and squash as the most important ingredients in Mesoamerican diet, but chile is just as pervasive. The native tribes cultivated three species of chile and they used them in practically every dishes. In fact, chile was so important that when one performed religious penance, one gave up both salt and chile for the duration of that time. They used the fumes from roasting them to not only fumigate their homes of bugs, but to also discipline unruly and defiant children; there’s even stories of it being used as a chemical weapon when stuffed along with smoldering ash into gourds and thrown over the walls of enemy fortresses. The natives ate chiles raw, cooked, dried and ground, mixed in stews, in sauces, and cooked onto meat; they even added chile powder to their cups of chocolate.

Next time, we’ll take a look at some other popular food items, some of them readily recognizable while others might make your stomach turn.

Only one day left to enter to win a digital ARC of The Bone Flower Throne. Find out how to enter here.