“Not your typical suburban wife and mother”

First of all, my post about the latest review debate got linked on Metafilter. Some good discussion over there, too.

Then, Riverfront News, a St. Louis based newspaper, published this extensive profile of Nebula and Clarke Award winner Ann Leckie, which also goes quite a bit into the racism and sexism debate currently going on in the SFF genre.

It’s a very good and thorough article, with a few caveats. For example, does the colour of Ann Leckie’s toenail polish really matter? Or why is she introduced as “not a typical suburban mother of two” (not typical because of her choice of toenail polish) in the very first paragraph? And given that the article extensively goes into the debate over the SFWA Bulletin and the controversy regarding the Resnick/Malzberg column which focussed more on how Beatrice Mahaffey looked in a bikini than on her work, it’s surprising that the author doesn’t notice the irony of focussing on Ann Leckie’s choice of toenail polish.

Sadly, an extensive focus on appearance, maternal and marital status is typical for articles about women writers and indeed any women who archived anything ever. It’s almost a standard script by now: “She was just a typical suburban wife and mother until she wrote this book which happened to become a huge success.” Hence, E.L. James, who is a TV producer in her day job, is recast as a typical suburban wife and mother who would never dream of doing the sort of things she described in Fifty Shades of Grey in real life. Indie romance writer Colleen Hoover is a “married mother of three young boys living in rural East Texas and working 11-hour days as a social worker” who never even thought about writing before penning her bestselling novel Slammed. And Amanda Hocking, who is neither married nor a mother, still gets a condescending New York Times profile, which focusses more on her choice in clothing and furniture than on her novels.

At least the Riverfront News article acknowledges that Ann Leckie has been writing for years, collecting rejections and publication credits (though True Confessions does not publish bodicerippers – sigh) and taking writing classes, including attending Clarion. A lot of articles about women writers don’t seem to acknowledge the fact that writing takes practice and work at all and instead spin the story of the regular suburban wife and mother who just sat down one day to write a bestseller. See the well publicised story about Stephenie Meyer who supposedly had a dream one night and wrote Twilight without ever having as much as written a word before, even though we know that she took writing classes with Dave Farland.

It’s not just women writers either who are treated that way by the media, but women period: Check out this article about Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She just won the freaking Nobel Prize and yet she’s still “a British wife and mother of three”.

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5 Responses to “Not your typical suburban wife and mother”

  1. Well, the difference is that the Hodgkin article was in the sixties, the Leckie one in the eleventies. And having one third of the article being about Scalzi’s approval of Leckie (with photo) didn’t significantly improve things. I guarantee you that an article about Scalzi wouldn’t include opinions of any length by Leckie.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, the focus on John Scalzi, complete with photo, was strange to say the least. Especially since I’m sure that a similar article about him would neither focus extensively on Ann Leckie nor would John Scalzi be introduced as a husband and father who just happened to write a book one day. His clothing choices wouldn’t figure either.

      Though to be fair, the article also included a photo of Mary Robinette Kowal on page 4 or 5, though none of N.K. Jemisin, though she was quoted more extensively.

      • Martin Wisse says:

        I got the feeling the article used Scalzi as an authority, a way to signify that yes, we’re spending a lot of time talking about this one woman writing science fiction, but look this writer and sf bigwig you may have heard of thinks she’s great.

        It’s a way for a journalist to praise their subject without losing “objectivity” and it’s still hella problematic of course, using a bloke to validate a woman.

        I wonder how much of it was the input of the journalist and how much the input of their editors.

        I felt that the article on the whole had its heart in the right place, just undermined by adhering to the same old lazy journalist scripts about wifes and mothers.

        • Cora says:

          I agree that the article had its heart in the right place. Besides, it’s great to see Ann Leckie getting some coverage.

          Nonetheless, the standard “script” about women writers or indeed any women who ever achieved anything (since you get the same “just a regular wife and mother” stuff also on articles about female politicians, scientists, sportswomen, etc…) is very frustrating, when you see it over and over again. Though you’re right that it might be as much due to the editor as to the journalist in question.

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