TT: Typing the Stereo

JANE: Last week you teased me with the promise of a tale about something that happened to you at a party many years ago.  Ready to tell?

Ursula Vernon: Stereotypical Writer?

ALAN: Yes indeed. A group of us were gathered together chatting. After a while it dawned on us that:

  1. We were all men
  2.  We were standing in the kitchen
  3.  We were swapping recipes

We discussed this for a time, and the only logical conclusion we could reach was that clearly all the women must be in the lounge watching rugby on the television. No other explanation was possible.

This story still makes me smile because really it’s a joke about stereotypes, and I enjoy the irony.

JANE: When did this happen?

ALAN: Probably about thirty years ago.

JANE: So, roughly 1987.  Hmm…  Yeah.  That would still have been a time when women watching rugby (or here American football) and men discussing recipes would have been a violation of the stereotypes.

I think that – at least here – the situation has changed.  Among my male writer friends, many are excellent cooks.  Steve (S.M.) Stirling makes wonderful bread and ebullient salads.  Walter Jon Williams is a gourmet chef.  When time permits, David Weber does much of his family’s cooking.  George R.R. Martin and I once competed over who makes the best meatloaf.  And so on…  No one would find it all odd to find the men in the kitchen and the women not.

That’s one of the things that’s fascinating about stereotypes – how they change over the course of time.

ALAN: But that change, while it is a very real thing, is not always accepted by some groups, sometimes to the extent that invocations of the stereotype can start to seem eccentric or perhaps even offensive.

For example, I get quite irritated when Mother’s Day rolls around and the television is overwhelmed with adverts for kitchen gifts. And on Father’s Day we get wall to wall adverts for power tools. Advertisers seem to be locked in to models of society (and gender behaviour) that haven’t been true for a generation or more – if indeed they were ever completely true in the first place.

It seems to me that sometimes the movers and shakers are quite blind to what is going on all around them.

JANE: Too true!  I like to tease Jim about those Father’s Day ads, ask him if he needs beer can cozies or a new item of grilling paraphernalia.  For some reason he always turns me down.

ALAN: But what about our own areas of expertise? I spent my working life playing with computers, a field that is rife with stereotypical assumptions. You have been closely involved with writers and writing. Let’s start with you. Are there any stereotypes about writers?

JANE: There absolutely are.

Many years ago, a common author photo featured the author either holding or smoking a pipe, with a dog sitting nearby.  Roger told me about an author – I wish I could remember who – who posed for his photo with the dog “smoking” the pipe.

That wouldn’t be as funny without the stereotype.

ALAN: Are there any special expectations for women writers?

JANE: Cats and tea…  As a devoted black coffee drinker, I sometimes feel ostracized.  (Not really.)  At least I have the cats.

I had an odd insight into wardrobe expectations for authors when Ursula Vernon – author of many books, including Castle Hangnail, as well as the “Hamster Princess” and “Dragonbreath” series – was here for Bubonicon.   I complimented her on a top she was wearing.  She said that it was part of her “kid’s book author wardrobe.”  I asked her what she meant and she explained that authors of books for kids are assigned uniforms.  In her case this meant:

“Flowing batik and large chunky necklaces. Colorful scarves. Teachers and organizers usually expect that a children’s book author looks like a well-heeled hippie or a high school art teacher.”

ALAN: Even the men?

JANE: Let me ask her.  Hang on…

Ursula said: “Male children’s book authors are allowed to dress like all other authors–i.e. sport coat over jeans.”

ALAN: That’s a relief.

JANE: There’s an interesting reason why Ursula Vernon adopted the “well-heeled hippie” look.   Apparently, her mother, whom she strongly resembles, already was using the high school art teacher wardrobe, so it was go hippie or be taken for her mom.

So, you see, authors do face stereotypes in many areas.

ALAN: And don’t forget that you have to starve in a garret…

JANE: That last isn’t as funny as it may sound.  I’ve known many an author who has refused to learn how to manage money or live on a budget – or even do something as sensible as learn how to understand a contract before signing it.  “Real” authors are supposed to be above such mundane considerations.

Stereotypes can be very damaging when they give people the excuse to be dumb.

ALAN: There’s a stereotype about the readers of blogs that says the audience won’t read anything longer than 800 words.  Since we’ve already exceeded that, perhaps I should talk about stereotypical computer people next time?

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2 Responses to “TT: Typing the Stereo”

  1. James M. Six Says:

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch has talked about the business of being an author and especially the horrors of contracts at her blog for years, in case anyone is interested: http://kriswrites.com .

  2. futurespastsite Says:

    Some of the most grounded people I know are authors. But others do fit the eccentricities stereotype.

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