Mar 5 2007
A special Monday edition of Jane’s
Rants Opinion Letters
Tara Gelsomino, former managing editor of RT and alleged face behind the blind Flavia authored items, writes at Access Romance Reader’s Gab that men do it better. Oh, not sex, you guys, writing. Ms. Gelsomino posits that men are doing better jobs of creating smart books and even beyond that smart heroines in smart books. She snerks that the women in the softer side of literature (such as romance and chick lit), are too busy measuring the appendage of her male counterpart to catch a bad guy.
Ms.Gelsomino is deliberately provocative and wrote to gather a response and attention. I always feel like I should give to those who ask. It’s my biblically mandated duty. (Ask and it shall be given you; Matthew 7:7).
Her credibility is in question given her Amazon lists includes Confessions of a Shopoholic and the Miracle Strip by Nancy Bartholomew (stripper with a heart of gold solves mysteries with hunky sheriff) and One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (wherein Stephanie Plum is constantly surmising Ranger’s assets), but I’ll give her the response and linkage that she wants.
Certainly romance and chick lit has its issues, and because I read widely in that area, those are well known to me. However, to equate smart books with the ability to solve a crime seems a little short sighted. Next month is the release of a third book in Julie Kenner’s code series. In the first book, with the title, the The Givenchy Code, Kenner’s heroine must use her mensa brain abilities to solve clues in a role playing game that someone has taken to real life.
Ms. Gelsomino laments the lack of strong female protagonists in sci fi and fantasy. She does not mention Linnea Sinclair whose space operas have all been piloted by strong female characters. Nor does she give credit to authors like Maria Snyder, Laura Ann Gilman, Sharon Shinn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Civil Campaign, anyone?), Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Rachel Caine, Richelle Mead, Jackie Kesslar, Charlaine Harris.
She can’t name one other female author than Karen Slaughter who writes smart mysteries. I’ll name some for you: Nora Roberts, PJ Tracy, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen.
Ms. Gelsomino makes the mistake of equating intelligence with the ability to solve crimes. I am a multiple degreed individual and consider myself reasonably intelligent but my skills at detecting would be embarrassingly low. That’s not my bailiwick. It’s like saying comedians aren’t actors. They don’t appear to be acting. They are just making us laugh. Only the serious movies, the ones that have foreign languages in them, are smart. (Because anything with subtitles necessarily requires us to read and therefore is a smart movie).
Smartness or intelligence can be evidence in other ways. Such as when Yelena in Poison Study makes the decision to be a food taster and thereby stave off death, at least for a few days. That seemed like a smart decision to me. Or when Eve Dallas in Innocent in Death, sees her marriage teetering on the edge of collapse, goes to Roarke and lays out her heart regardless of possible ridicule and rejection, that seemed smart. When Lilith in Demon Angel tells so many lies that she believes them because she must in order to deceive Lucifer, that seems smart.
Smartness is not the sole province of the Soduko challengers (btw, I can do the hard levels in under 30 minutes) and the ability to solve the Rubik’s Cube is nothing. Perhaps illustrative of this is the understated story of Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner. Carrie Pilby is a young woman who is struggling to survive on her own. She just graduated from Harvard at the age of 19 and is alone and friendless. She cannot relate to anyone because she constantly looks down at them for not being as smart as she. Over the course of the book, Carrie begins to make connections and realizes that her brain power alone can’t fulfill her.
Corporations began testing prospective managers for EI (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). It is posited that the higher EI or EQ, the better manager because you understand how to lead your team. These tests are subject to criticism but the underlying thesis is true. To be a smart leader, you must understand how to motivate. Phil Jackson, NBA coach guru, is said to be a master at manipulation and motivation.
Smart can mean all kinds of things. It can mean the ability to give a quick rejoinder like the heroines in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Natural Born Charmer or HelenKay Dimon’s Viva Las Bad Boys!. Smart can be the ability to detect or solve crimes like Michele Jaffe’s heroine in Bad Girl (one of my favorites). Smart can just be the ability to survive amongst really bad circumstances like Keri Arthur’s heroine in Tempting Evil (ie., when you are put in the situation of fighting your brother until one or the other of you is maimed beyond walking or death, what do you do?)
To create a syllogism based on gender seems misplaced. (i.e., smart books are written by men. Book A was written by a woman. Thus Book A must not be a smart book.). Gender of an author does not makes a book more or less smart; nor does genre of a book define quality. To assume so would insult all the authors who are female and write in a particular genre and also the readers of those authors and genres.
Would I like to see more capable, stronger female protagonists in chick lit and romance? Absolutely. One reason is because I think that true love is best between equals. But to say that the men do it better is not only inaccurate but demeaning.
We romance bloggers may complain about the genre we love, but love it we do because we know that intelligence comes from the heart, not just the head.