There’s an epidemic in the world of publishing. Ladies in love don’t sell books. Or so they say.
When I first started seeking out queer women in literature, I found a lot of books exploring the rejection and homophobia faced by thousands: the quintessential coming out tale. But that was where queer literature seemed to start and end. Or did it? Turns out the stories of adventuring princesses and dragon-riders who fall in love with their fellow women are out there; they’re just hidden from plane sight.
Time after time I’ve picked up books from the genre fiction shelves, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction, and quickly discovered my heart’s desire: ladies in love. At first this was a pleasant surprise and I thought, I need more. Then I realised discovering more was going to be a quest in itself. How do you find queer women in literature when the publishers don’t tell you they’re there? Books that turn out to be queer are often exactly that: they ‘turn out’ to be queer. There’s no mention of queer identity or romances between two women in the blurb. There’s mention of women who must save the world or forbidden romances with no further elucidation but rarely are there rainbow flags flying throughout these stories’ marketing campaigns.
Please don’t tell me it’s because romance doesn’t sell. From Twilight to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, from Throne of Glass to Clockwork Angel, romance plot-lines between women and men are implied if not explicitly stated in the blurbs of popular genre fiction. So, who are we hiding the queer relationships from? Because it surely can’t be the queer readers.
Having spoken to queer authors the teams behind their book’s blurb seem to think that these themes won’t sell, or they can surprise homophobic readers into queer-acceptance by springing these subplots on them during the reading experience. Well, there are problems with both of these arguments and they both come down to the undervaluing of the queer audience. Who do queer books exist for? Of course, everyone can read and enjoy a queer novel, but the significance of representation is that it makes queer readers feel seen. It gives us a voice; it says ‘you are not abnormal’ and that ‘your stories matter too’. Queer literature doesn’t exist to convince others we are valid.
In fact, hiding these romances does all readers a disservice. LGBT+ bookshops like Gay’s the Word, the only one of its kind in England, rely heavily on customer recommendations when stocking their shelves because the publishers fail to flag their titles’ queer themes. How many books have I missed-out on in my local bookshop or library because I had no idea I might find myself represented in these fantastical adventures? How many authors’ works have been done an injustice because their publisher convinced them they would sell more copies if they kept their book in the closet? My guess? Too many.
Around the world, the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. Originally founded in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the women who have fought for change and is an opportunity to discuss current issues faced by different people across the world and what can be done to initiate change, inspired by those who have gone before us.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight just a few individuals, groups, projects and reading materials that you can watch, read, follow and get involved in.
You can also watch my International Women’s Day Reading List video here.
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Books provide so many things, at different times and for different people. More often than not, however, they expand our world. They introduce to new places, and people, and ideas. They develope our vocabulary and show us how to use language in new and exciting ways. They make us consider ourselves and the people around us. They inspire and give us hope.
One of the most wonderful things my parents gave to me was the joy of reading. This simple passion has taken me to so many places, metaphorically and literally, that I may never have gone if it were not for them. And it all started with picture books. I was lucky that amongst my children’s picture books were insights into different cultures from my own, varied characters of different races, sexualities and backgrounds and introductions to difficult but important topics; I’m certain I’m a better person for it.
I was thinking about this most recently because of two books that came through my letter box (OK the postie had to ring the doorbell). These are truly beautiful books: beautiful ideas, beautiful words and beautiful images. They break down prejudices, open up the reader’s mind and potentially make some feel a little less alone. For that reason I had to share them with you all in someway or another.
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My boyfriend and I recently watched 17 Again: a film where Zac Efron plays the part of a middle age man who through divine janitorial intervention is transformed back into his 17 year old self and has to attend high school with his two teenage children. The film was fine, made me laugh, nothing out of this world. This is not a film review.
During the film Zac Efron’s character delivered an instructional speech to three girls who finding him attractive, decide to get their flirt on and let him know they are interested. His words (I’m quoting from memory here) were:
Girls! ‘If you don’t respect yourselves, how will men ever be able to respect you.’
Stop right there Zac Efron, or more accurately the screenwriters of 17 Again! Please, this is enough. This is another phrase I hear constantly especially in films and television. And it is seemingly portrayed as empowering message to young women… does no one else see the problem here?
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Mean girls: not just the title of a popular comedy film. Nope, it is also a phrase I have heard batted around me in person and online my entire life. Not directed specifically towards me but as an elusive gender myth that lingers in the air waiting to suffocate new generations of women.
‘All girls are mean!’
Men, women, boys and girls have cried since whenever this stereotype came into existence…
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Above you will bare witness to but a small selection of the titles published by Hard Case Crimes and their rather ‘stimulating’ cover designs. And it is their covers that are the topic of this post. Other than their retro feel and bold type-face there is one thing in particular that appears to bind each of these covers together, regardless of the plot or author, and, it seems silly for me to have to point this out, that is the adornment of an either scantily clad or entirely naked woman on each.
Now, I feel like it won’t come as a surprise to most of you that these covers make me a little uncomfortable. My first exposure to these cover designs was with an advanced readers’ copy of Joyland by Stephen King very kindly sent to me by the publishers who knew I was interested in reading some of King’s work. I cannot tell you that I was not a little shocked by the cover, which bore a women all but naked except for a cleverly positioned towel. Not aware of the rest of this line’s cover designs I took it to be a cover carefully chosen for this book, which fitted with the plot and although seemingly objectified women’s bodies had another purpose unbeknownst to me. When I first saw these covers in a group such as this, however, I had to check my calendar. It is 2016 right? OK, so it may not have been 2016 for long but regardless, it is the 21st century.
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