On Heroines

(Spoiler Warnings Various)

I was very fortunate that, growing up, I was able to find books in which girls were the protagonists, the chosen, the ones who saved their homes or their worlds. Particular thanks to Tamora Pierce, who practically codified this as a subgenre, but the truth is that between my school’s surprisingly large collection, given the number of students, and the vast resources of the New York Public Library, my books were full of people like me.

Where I was more lacking in representation was in films, although I never thought it was an issue. Sure, I had some complaints — Leia is undoubtedly awesome, but I wanted to wield a lightsaber goddamnit — but for the most part I accepted that the protagonists of my favorite movies were mostly male. Or that even if the main character was a woman, she would be surrounded primarily by men.

I didn’t think it was a problem.

Then, I learned I could have something different.

Continue reading

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Year in Review III

The concluding post to my review of books read in 2016. See Part I for pretty charts and Part II for boring methodology.

Major Takeaways

Let’s review the most significant conclusions from Part I:

  • I read a lot of women
  • I don’t read a lot of nonwhite authors
  • I don’t read a lot of books with LGBTQ+ authors or characters

And let’s also recall the following chart, which demonstrates my clear and obvious preference for female characters written by female authors:

image-2

Female Bias

Of the 110 books I read last year, 85 were written by women and 25 were written by men. However, once I account for series books written by the same author, I am left with 76 individual authors, of whom 51 are female (67%) and 24 are male (33%).

Considering that I make a deliberate effort to seek out work by female authors, I’m not at all surprised to see that they make up a majority percentage of my reading material. In fact, I almost expected the percentage of female authors to be higher. I can think of one possible reason why that was not the case… Continue reading

Year in Review I

Don’t worry, this isn’t another retrospective on how much this year sucked (though it did). I’m actually here to take a look at the books I read over the past year and look at some of the demographics of their authors and main characters.

Yes, I am voluntarily doing stats.

Nothing complicated, just some percentages. Maybe a pie chart. But I figure these sorts of conversations (I’ll elaborate in just a moment) are best had with actual numbers attached.

“I only read good books”

This idea has been in my head for a while; every so often someone brings up diversity in reading habits and the internet explodes with the same arguments. “I don’t care if the author is male or female or black or white or purple, if it’s a good book I’ll read it”. (Never mind that the majority of the time this approach results in a reading list full of white men). Right around the time that I started working, r/fantasy provided me with another such conversation, with all the predictable attendant criticisms.

I feel very strongly that if one wants to cultivate a diversity of perspectives in their reading list, one has to deliberately counteract the systematic bias that is present in the publishing industry. But while I talk the talk, do I walk the walk? I have long made a deliberate effort to seek out female authors, but how successful was I really? And what about other measures of diversity, like race or identity/orientation?

The Project

In brief: I made a spreadsheet of all the books I read in 2016 and looked at the demographics of the authors and the main characters. How many women? How many men? How many nonwhite authors or characters? And so on. If you’re interested in the details, there will be another post breaking down my methods (and my methodological problems), and another discussing interpretations, implications and next steps for 2017. For now, I’ll just present the basic results and a pretty chart or two… Continue reading

Real Talk Time

Real talk time: I’m not in a super happy place right now.

No, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing I can point to and say “this is why I feel the way I do”. No obvious trauma or event that would leave me blue. Things are going well for me…and yet yesterday I found myself crying in the shower for no particular reason at all.

I could tally all the insults, slight or otherwise, that I think are combining to make me sad right now: I’m stressed about finding a job, I’m spending a lot of the day by myself with not much interaction, it’s the holiday season and for various reasons at the moment my extended family is more upsetting than not. My country elected a reality TV charlatan as its president and every time I turn on the TV the new administration looks more autocratic. I’m getting frustrated with the novel again; it’s not going well. I’m behind on some other things that are ‘optional’ but important to me. And the little voice in my head which I am coming to understand is my old friend Anxiety seizes on those little insults and blows them all out of proportion. Continue reading

A Bit of Housekeeping

Hi everyone. Remember me?

Probably not, given that it’s been a month since I published my last post. Apologies, but the truth is I was too upset to blog. Leaving Cambridge was hard, and my time since then has either been totally occupied with medical school interviews or so unstructured that I just can’t bring myself to shape thoughts to put on the page.

And I miss my friends, and I miss my college, and I miss my cows.

But anyway.

I think I’m at a place now where I can come back to this – NaNo is giving me a nice kick in the pants – NO NOT THOSE KINDS OF PANTS – so it’s time to resume shouting my thoughts into the void.

Which is to say: look out for more posts coming your way very soon.

Across the Pond: A Valediction

When I was graduating high school a lot of very well meaning adults said to me some variation on the following: “College will be the best four years of your life.”

It was with that expectation that I started at Columbia. I was skeptical, to be sure — is college really that different from everything that came before? — but I was ready to be convinced.

I was not.

Please don’t mistake me. There are a lot of things I liked, even loved, about Columbia. It provided the capstone to my years at Brearley, putting the polish on the rock-solid educational foundation I have been so privileged to receive. The Core Curriculum is a beautiful, beautiful thing — without it I might never have read Crime and Punishment or Plato’s Symposium, never studied the works of Mozart and Michelangelo, never immersed myself in the works that make up the underpinning of Western culture and society. And then there was my department, my wonderful fellow primates of EBHS, who became like my second family. I value equally our passionate debates on the humanity of Neandertals and your snarky comments on Bad Movie Night. I had wonderful experiences at Columbia, made wonderful friends. But the best years of my life? I disagreed. I still do.

But now — ah, now I understand what they meant when they said it, because this year at Cambridge has been the best year of my life.

It won’t stay that way. I look forward to many “better” years in my future; life is about growing and changing, and there’s no value in the stagnation required to believe your best is thirty years behind you. But I will always remember this year as special — it is, and always will be, a hugely pivotal moment in my life.

For that, I want to thank you, Cambridge. I want to thank your academics for their passion, your students for their drive, your buildings steeped in history for the way they evoke in me such a desire to know more.  And Pembroke, I will always remember your courts fondly, in particular the beautiful and badly insulated New Court.

But it’s the people who have truly made this year special: My fellow BioAnth MPhils, braving the wilds of a brilliant-but-scatterbrained department to produce exceptional works of academic achievement (I’m so proud); The greater Pembroke GP community, who welcomed me and the other freshers from the very first day — I shall miss you all terribly;  New Court United, the best staircase neighbors a girl could have.

And my friends.

From 8:10 breakfast to Mill Pond picnics to late nights playing Cards Against Humanity, you have lightened my days (and possibly corrupted my soul). Either way, I am forever changed by knowing you. Thank you for listening me prattle on about my writing, or indulging my love of cows; I’ll treasure that book forever, you know. Thank you, too, for the heavier stuff — turns out being twenty-three and far from home can be pretty tough sometimes. I appreciated the shoulders to cry on.

You’ve taught me so much, from the ridiculous (did you know that Edinburgh Castle is built on the basalt core of an extinct volcano?) to the profound — how to listen, how to be compassionate, how to be brilliant and fierce and confident even in the face of uncertainty. I know you will all go on to do amazing things.

It’s time for me to go home now. I don’t know exactly where the next years will take me, what new obstacles life will put in my way. I don’t know when I’ll see you (England, Cambridge, Pembroke, my dear friends) again. Honestly, that scares me a little.

But I know I’ll be okay — “’cause through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong”. And wherever life does take me, I’ll remember this year at Pembroke with equal love and affection, and treasure it always.