I want to be a better reviewer. I want to make insightful comments about a book’s successes and shine a light on all the areas where it fails, but the latter is hindered by the fact that I still see many failures as defaults.
Case in point: Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon.
I liked it. I reviewed it saying so, pointing out a few faults – but I had come away from the book with a mostly positive feeling.
The women are filtered through the male gaze, even in their own narratives. The girl immediately starts caring about her looks when she encounters an attractive young man. She loses her ability to shapechange when menstruating. Women cry often and men rarely. A woman’s serious problems are dismissed in favour of a man’s lesser ones. (Losing your entire tribe vs losing your house. Hmm.) Women think almost exclusively about men, while men think about everyone. And so on. The book is also completely heteronormative: not a whisper that gay people exist.
When I read Throne of the Crescent Moon, I didn’t notice this – because the above treatment of female characters is entirely the norm. No queer people? Pretty unremarkable, really.
While it’s predictable that as a white Brit I’m going to miss out on cultural fails – such as the failure to depict Muslim women’s complex network of female relationships – I’m a woman and a queer person, yet I missed the problems that Requires Hate highlighted, not because they’re not actually there but because I’m so used to them that they don’t jump out at me as particularly problematic.
This is misogyny and homophobia at work. This is what our society does.
Define women by their looks, mark them out as “special” (the bad kind of special) for menstruating, separate them from one another, have them only think about men, have them turn to men for support, subject them to male sexualisation (but don’t have women sexualising men – instead, ignore or shame female sexuality), have them use patriarchical tools against each other, have a man’s casual misogyny go unquestioned, have mothers killed off and fathers honoured – do all this, and the act of seeing it and critising it becomes a daily struggle because it’s everywhere, it’s in the air we breathe, it’s the background radiation of our lives.
Don’t even mention gay people – and the appearance of gay characters remains exceptional.
I’m tired, so tired, of not noticing this, of treating it as normal. And then I feel that I’m a bad feminist and queer person for not noticing it – when the only people who should feel bad are the ones perpetuating it.
My reviews can’t be perfect. I will miss things – lots of things, sometimes. I hope that I will get better at noticing and talking about failures, as well as celebrating excellent books and providing a starting point for discussion of both failures and successes.
I’m not sure I can hope that misogyny and homophobia – and all other fails – will go away.