So the other day I started reading iron shadows by Steven Barnes. He’s apparently a bestselling author. Which is really disturbing.
Because four sentences in, he describes a woman as “a small wiry brunette”. Seriously? Does anyone actually identify women by their hair colour any more? That’s so—1940s. Isn’t it? I check. The book’s copyright is 1998. Okay. Guess not. Guess the tradition of objectifying women lives on.
We don’t do that with men. We don’t objectify them by their hair colour (or anything else, for that matter). Their hair colour for godsake. She’s a brunette. Or a blonde. Or a redhead. As if all women with brown hair are what, interchangeable? Because they’re completely defined by—the colour of their hair?
Not only that, but he had to mention her size. Small. Of course. If she’s going to be a heroine, she has to be small. I’m surprised he didn’t tell us how large her breasts are.
And whereas she’s small, he’s “enormous”. Of course he is.
Could we just reverse the description with nothing odd happening, that test for sexism? “The man, a small, wiry brunette with an ugly bruise on his left cheek, wore a yellow unisex utility uniform. The woman was enormous, but barely conscious.” Not only do you find it odd to hear a man called “a small, wiry brunette”, you no doubt found it a bit disgusting to hear the woman called “enormous”.
I am, goddamnit, still a little forgiving, so I read on.
But the very next woman—or maybe it’s the same woman, since the next bit happens two months earlier—the very next woman “nibbles” on dry wheat toast. Because we can’t have a woman actually eating with guilt-free enthusiasm.
And she has “an oval face framed by a cascade of small soft blonde ringlets”. Small again. And soft. And blonde. And ringlets. Ringlets?!
In case we missed it, “Her habit of peering out from behind them sometimes made her resemble a mischievous child peeking through a fence.”
In 1998. And published by Tor.
No wonder women can’t get published. As long as this insulting crap is deemed worthy. Is bestselling.
When will men finally get it? When will they finally get it right?
Robert J. Sawyer. He’s the only one. The only male sf writer who’s smart enough to create a non-sexist world.