Re: Ancillary Bitching

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I'm halfway through the third and the focus seems a little different, both in terms of scale and setting, and the absence of marked gender might be less of a problem there.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:16 AM
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First, back to reproductive sex

I'm at the office, but I guess I have a door and all.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:26 AM
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Well, this is a point on which I give the books a lot more credit than you do. I think that I basically agree on the reproductive biology point--like, it's weird and in some sense cheating or something that it almost never ever comes up (one time it sort of does with the stuff about the genitalia festival)--but disagree with you beyond that about Breq's problems with gender aren't consistent or plausible. I think they're rendered in a way that makes sense overall in the context of the hegemonizing colonizing culture of the Radch, and in a way that winds up being pretty sophisticated on the question of what position is the "progressive" one.

I don't, actually, think that Leckie is (just?) making "a point about how completely arbitrary it is that we care at all socially about reproductive sex"--my reading is that the books are arguing that it's very much *possible* to treat sex and gender this way (and perhaps much better!) but this stance turns out to be as ideologically rather than "naturally" conditioned as any other. The Radch can't easily convince the colonized people to just stop noticing or caring about gender, not because it's more natural (surely) but because it's deeply culturally/ideologically embedded; what Breq's gender incompetence shows us is that the "I don't even see gender" stance is a part of the colonial ideology and part of the power dynamic between the colonizing and colonized cultures. In this, Breq really is very Radch.

And when you add in social cues, it's much easier. In pretty much every real-world society, even sophisticated modern societies that are all about gender equality, people hang gender signals all over themselves. These are going to be arbitrary and unfamiliar to Breq, but arbitrary social distinctions signaled through dress and behavior are something that people generally manage just fine.

And in fact you do at some points see Breq thinking about how they're arbitrary and unfamiliar, and then basically just not bothering to learn them, even though she wants to care enough to learn them, because it would make her job easier--she just fundamentally on some level finds it irritating and unnecessary. I found this consistent as a character note reflecting the degree to which Breq is, in fact, a product of the colonial system.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:32 AM
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You are so wrong, LB, I'm sorry. You are SO WRONG.

On a point of fact, Breq and several other characters are all "we have our babies via machine and medical intervention, gender has nothing to do with it". There's also lots of parents. The whole second book is about parents and families, and there's this almost entirely gratuitous plot point about the little girl in the first book.

Also, Breq is an ancillary, not a human. One of the things the books do, especially the first one, is to explore strong social patterns where the patriarchal family doesn't determine them or operate as a metaphor for them.

Also, I don't buy this "it's easy to tell people's gender when they are not from your culture" thing. I've had many, many experiences with people from other Earth cultures where we had gender confusion initially due to different gender cues and different body size - if you're in a society where almost everyone is very thin and has short hair, for instance, or a society hair cues are totally different and facial expressions tend to be different when at rest (in this case, Native people, lots of long hair, less smiling, loose clothes). where every Breq doesn't have gender confusion in places she's been for long periods; she has gender confusion when she's somewhere new.

For that matter, people are routinely confused by my gender on first meeting, and while I am a gender-non-conforming person, I also have large breasts and do not wear a binder- even in my most androgynous clothes and wearing a sports bra, I am just not even close to flat-chested. "This person must be female because visible breasts" does not actually work unless you're dressed in clothes that send very clear "I am fuckable" cues.

My SF class discussed book one and most of us read book two outside class. I noticed several things about the discussion: the people under about 35 had very little trouble with the premise but the people over 35 tended toward your line of argument (except me, based on my experience with culture and gender); and the idea that Breq's experience could actually be possible according to the logic of the text actually made one woman very, very angry - the idea that Breq didn't have a gender herself and could not immediately identify others' genders was really upsetting to her.

Also, you are SO WRONG, LB.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:33 AM
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Anyway, the ones I'm not reading currently are a little fuzzy to me, but I can't remember any discussion anywhere of how reproduction works. I don't remember any pregnant characters or hatching pods or anything else that would signal anything about where babies come from. There is sex (in terms of people-in-bed-doing-stuff rather than biological categorization) in the third book but absolutely no concerns from Breq on how to gender anyone or from anyone else on being misgendered.

I do think Leckie seems a bit heavy-handed in talking so much about how Breq is aware of cultural(/racial?) differences within conquered cultures in ways that members of the culture claim not to be and yet remains unwilling or perhaps unable to gender people according to local norms. There's a character in the third from a different alien culture whose behavioral norms are radically different and who has to be taught to be polite enough not to terrify anyone, but again gender never comes into it at all. I think maybe this was an issue in the first book that imprinted heavily on LB but hasn't been as prevalent in the story since, but that's just a guess and from my probably skewed perspective.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:34 AM
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My comment is full of typos.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:34 AM
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See, and clearly I'm wrong about the discussion of reproduction. I think it just sailed by me because I'm 35 and it conforms with what I'd expect from a story like this one.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:36 AM
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clearly I'm wrong about the discussion of reproduction. I think it just sailed by me because... it conforms with what I'd expect from a story like this one.

Ditto here. Though, to be fair to LB, surely some of the colonized cultures didn't already have those technologies or would resist using them, and thus pregnant people would come up, sometimes, in the course of conquering everybody, presumably as yet another a mark of being not so "civilized"--but not necessarily in a way that would penetrate Breq's experience/awareness.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:41 AM
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If anything, I guess the Radch (we had so much fun talking about how to pronounce "Radch" - really revealing about everyone's natal and/or grandparental language stuff) is a society where lineage is very important but paternity is not. It's a society that manages to be awful without patriarchy, perhaps?

I liked the books because they pushed me to be very aware of how and when I identify people's genders, and to question whether I was really identifying people's genders easily all the time based on "natural" factors.

On a side note: I have lots of trans friends who have chosen hormonal transition, and one result of that is that many, many people 'look trans' to me now. There's all kinds of things that my brain assigns to physical transition - a certain way that the cheekbones and ridge of the nose tend to appear, or a certain kind of facial shape in relation to body size - that I've actually started noticing all over the place on people who are cis. Sometimes it's caused me to assume that someone was trans when they weren't, sometimes it's just been "hm, actually "looking trans" is largely cultural".

Looking at people and assuming their genders is cultural, I really think - and only likely to grow more so as we move on into a Leckie-an spacefaring high-tech imperial society or whatever. It's so deeply cultural and pushes so many buttons for people that they want to assume that it's natural, but it's not.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:42 AM
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Unsurprisingly -- violating the sanctity of off-blog communications, I talked about these books with rft -- I agree with #3. I haven't read the final book yet but based on the first two, if you think of Breq as sort of good-naturedly sea lioning/JAQing the question of gender, that gets you there; she wants to think of herself as someone who is not a jackbooted imperialist, but she is totally a jackbooted imperialist. In the end of the second book, it seems like she couldn't truly take non-Radch culture seriously it's not clear how much she even managed to try. Look at how badly she botches her interactions with various people -- notably the civilians, not the soldiers -- in the second book; you could just as easily say, "She's a clever person, why not try to do even a modestly better job thinking about how someone whose good opinion is very important to her is going to react to what she's saying?" But she doesn't, because she's a terrifying imperial cyborg space marine, and her long lifetime of lived experience makes has carved some very deep grooves into her thinking. Even if she notionally wants to be all "subvert the dominant paradigm! burn shit down!*", the further she gets from the main contexts of her pre-rebellion life (soldiers, ships, civilian officials) the worse she does at it.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:44 AM
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* I mean, she does subvert the dominant paradigm and burn shit down, but in basically the sort of way a terrifying imperial cyborg space marine would go about it.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:44 AM
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It's a society that manages to be awful without patriarchy, perhaps?

This is good. I described it to someone as "the Culture, but not a Utopia", which I think works too.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:45 AM
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4: I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I'm less wrong than you think I am. On the possibility of misgendering people based on physical cues -- sure, I know this happens, it used to happen to me a lot in college (as I've mentioned here before). Boyish haircut, tall, skinny, broadshouldered, and slovenly in an unfeminine kind of way that didn't look like a style choice, and I was young enough that a boy my apparent age would plausibly not have had much of a beard. But of twenty people on the street, nineteen or so are going to be an easy call -- what gets me about Breq is that she appears to be trying, but she doesn't do things like, e.g., check for stubble, or facial hair, or breasts. The position she's in, where's she's looking at someone and has no idea at all, is what clangs so hard.

Writing her making mistakes because she forgot to think about gender because she doesn't care? Sure. Making mistakes because she runs into someone with contradictory or misleading physical and social cues? Again, sure. Being totally lost about how to even start guessing? Leckie just lost me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:50 AM
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I just love Breq, though. I cannot get over the whole grumpiness/physical strength/gender-oddity/non-sexuality thing.

Does she really botch her interactions with others? She certainly has to retrench, but compare that to how the Radch generally operates. If anything, she tends to swashbuckle on in and be all "I am on your side marginalized minority" and then do something which appears practical, shakes things loose but also brings a lot of chaos.

I guess I tend to think of the books as a critique of liberal political intervention - both the official liberal ideology of the Radch and the genuinely liberal, not-actually-that-bad ideology of Breq.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:51 AM
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Looking at people and assuming their genders is cultural, I really think

This, sure. Where Leckie lost me was leaping from 'arbitrary and cultural' to 'a competent, intelligent adult from a different culture wouldn't have a shot of navigating it at all'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:53 AM
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But of twenty people on the street, nineteen or so are going to be an easy call

I'd say 49 of 50, but I never did a study.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:56 AM
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13: On the misgendering front - see, the thing is, I am forty, round-faced, have quite small features compared to most men, have large breasts, wear earrings....and people do double-takes or outright assume I'm a man* all the time. I am not passing for a slender stripling in his first youth, I can tell you that. I don't even have a low voice. Honestly, I think it's expression more than anything - I have a very neutral expression and don't smile a lot. But that's a silly cue.

Competent intelligent adults fall all over themselves apologizing for how they handle my gender fairly regularly - and that's in settings where they don't have the advantage of being jackbooted battle cyborgs from an occupying power.

*My actual gender identity stuff is another story for another day; let's just say that I am confused by how I am passing.

I don't know what I'm going to do once I've read Imperial Mercy - I don't want to contemplate a world where there are no further Breq adventures, or even Seivarden adventures. (I like Seivarden a lot too.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:58 AM
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16: I'm sticking with my lower number, from experience as a having been in the hard call category. People sort other people really fast, and unconsciously, and are very unwilling to believe they might be wrong. When I used to get misgendered, a large majority of people still got me right, and were very confused that anyone could make a mistake; and the people who got me wrong were hard to convince that they were wrong (e.g., the woman who angrily chased me out of a ladies room even after I started talking, and I do not have a deep voice). I don't think people (in our culture) are good at noticing who is a hard call -- they just pick a category and are absolutely sure.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:01 AM
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I once got misgendered the restroom in a bar. The door to the men's room was open and covering the "wo" of the other. It's as close as I've ever been to living in a Benny Hill sketch.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:03 AM
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But that's what I was trying to get at with the "and now I think everyone is trans" bit - that sorting and being absolutely sure is cultural and relies on far less resilient a set of categorizations than we think. For Breq, who basically thinks it's dumb and that she knows best, it's not going to be natural at all - especially in societies where she's just passing through.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:03 AM
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Interesting. Not having read the books I will just be watching to see how the thread evolves, but it is a topic I encounter over at Crooked Timber, where Australian "Val" is usually around to inject the idea that gender and patriarchy are the primary source of the world's woes:hierarchy, environmental destruction, inequality violence, imperialism and war.

Her primary source seems to be a historian named Gerda Lerner, but in the last couple weeks I have encountered Betty Reardon

The notion "that human differences determine human worth", leads to the arrangement of "people in a hierarchy of social and human value". This hierarchy has "male, European, urban, and [the] technologically proficient" at the top.[11] She also believes that the male-female dichotomy, or gender binary, is integral to sexism and militarism.

But I'll let y'all talk.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:05 AM
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Actually I guess the third book has more about ship/ship relationships and ancillary/non-Radch alien and so on that may explain some of the absence of focus on gender. And there is several times the question of whether to call an ancillary "it" or "she."


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:06 AM
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Writing her making mistakes because she forgot to think about gender because she doesn't care? Sure. Making mistakes because she runs into someone with contradictory or misleading physical and social cues? Again, sure. Being totally lost about how to even start guessing? Leckie just lost me.

See, I think the last one is TOTALLY possible as a pure consequence of the other two.

Where Leckie lost me was leaping from 'arbitrary and cultural' to 'a competent, intelligent adult from a different culture wouldn't have a shot of navigating it at all'.

To me this is so characteristic of (a) the kind of [shrug emoticon] that privilege tends to produce ("oh, I just can't keep track of their wacky arbitrary systems, it's just impossible!") and but also (b) think about things like the cross-race effect--people are bad at attending to distinctions among people they perceive as out-group, especially if they're categorical distinctions they aren't already trained to make. (That is, I think it's a lot easier for an American Lizardbreath to learn Samoan conventions of performing femininity than it would be for her to learn to keep track of more obscure class/status distinctions that don't map on to categories she's used to distinguishing between.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:06 AM
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17: Again, sure. But the majority of people, and I'd say the large majority of people, don't get misgendered ever by anyone. I'm not denying that there are people (me in college, you now) who are puzzling to other people trying to put them in a gender box, just that there aren't enough of us to explain Breq's level of incapacity.

on 10: Maybe? But to assume that she's being deliberately incapable out of colonialist contempt for local culture, you have to assume that deliberate incapacity is very strong, but also largely absent from her interior monologue. I don't recall her thinking anything about deliberate refusal to cope. We don't obviously have total access to her interior state, but if that's an explanation I think it should have been better flagged.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:07 AM
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Apparently the average height for men is 5' 9.5" with standard deviation of 2.7", and the average height for women is 5' 4",with standard deviation of 2.3". Height is going to be a very reasonable predictor of gender.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:08 AM
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who basically thinks it's dumb and that she knows best

Yuuup.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:08 AM
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(As long as height is salient for the alien observer, which it sounds like it is.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:09 AM
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That is, I think it's a lot easier for an American Lizardbreath to learn Samoan conventions of performing femininity than it would be for her to learn to keep track of more obscure class/status distinctions that don't map on to categories she's used to distinguishing between.

In a ceremonial context, I could tell a tulafale from a matai pretty well (admittedly, the cues aren't subtle -- the tulafale is the guy holding the flywhisk and talking a lot). And draftees learn subtle distinctions of rank in the army with no difficulty. Arbitrary social distinctions, even without accompanying biological/physical distinctions, are a thing people do pretty well even when they're exposed to them as adults.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:11 AM
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25: That's p 25: That's p less than .05 or so. I assume aliens use the same cut-point as regular sentient beings.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:14 AM
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Breq is really sort of a test case for progressive ideologies of gender. I think she is supposed to stand in for a "good" way of doing gender, but how does that square with traditional ("good" or not) ways of doing gender which appear in the book? I think this is additional to the way the books deal with imperialism and gender.

25: But that seems not very useful across regions, classes and cultures. When I'm among upper middle class white Americans, I'm often one of the shortest of any gender; when I'm among Chinese medical students (who are, presumably, from privileged class backgrounds or they wouldn't have the bucks to be here), I'm tall for a woman and as tall as many men. When I'm among weirdos in the arts scene, I'm average. When I'm among normals, I'm short. (Seriously, this is a real thing - you can totally see how social status mirrors body type. There are certainly tall bohemians, but we're shorter on average, at least around here.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:16 AM
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There are certainly tall bohemians

In actual geographic Bohemia, they are pretty tall.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:19 AM
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We used to call big, tall white guys "Bohunks" (but not to their faces) or, if they were fast, defensive linemen.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:21 AM
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But that seems not very useful across regions, classes and cultures.

If she comes in contact with these groups equally and goes strictly based on above 5'7" = men, below 5'7" = women, then she'll do pretty well. She'll make errors of a certain kind according to group, but on the whole she'll do well. If she mostly hangs out with shorties, then she should adjust the cut-off accordingly.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:24 AM
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But really, height alone isn't very useful. If you relied on it, you'd still make an error about one time in twenty. If you weren't an alien, everybody would assume you were an idiot or an asshole.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:27 AM
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Or at least short men and tall women would think that.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:28 AM
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But the whole thing of Breq's experience is that she's moving between social groups and whole societies all the time, especially in the second book. The physical assumptions that might serve her well when dealing with the elites on whatever-the-planet-with-the-ill-conceived-dome-garden-is aren't going to do much for her when she's around the tea harvesters, etc etc.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:30 AM
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I killed the thread - hooray?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:48 AM
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Also now I'm worried that maybe Seivarden dies. Someone has to die, and we've coasted long enough on the momentum of the initial tragic death, which was sad enough thank you.

That's the nice thing about Ian Banks, you don't actually care about the characters that much, or at least you don't care about them in the same way.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:50 AM
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I think my main problem with the Ancillary books (or at least the first one) is that they're told from a first-person point of view using a narrator who isn't actually a person, or at least doesn't recognisably think like a person, and this makes it very hard to empathise with them.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:51 AM
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I'm having the same problem with Lord Jim.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:51 AM
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Or at least short men and tall women would think that.

But in conjunction with obvious stubble or breasts, you'd do about as well as the rest of us.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:58 AM
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I haven't read anything! ever.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:59 AM
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In a ceremonial context, I could tell a tulafale from a matai pretty well (admittedly, the cues aren't subtle -- the tulafale is the guy holding the flywhisk and talking a lot). And draftees learn subtle distinctions of rank in the army with no difficulty. Arbitrary social distinctions, even without accompanying biological/physical distinctions, are a thing people do pretty well even when they're exposed to them as adults.

That's why I said the weaselly thing about mapping, but it was, I admit, very weaselly.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:59 AM
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Obvious stubble doesn't come in until after lunch. Obvious breasts aren't obvious out of doors in the winter. You have to infer that they are under the giant coat.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:01 AM
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Heebie, I think there's way more variation (including physiological) in the people she's coming into contact with than you're imagining.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:02 AM
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Maybe this explains the stubble of Crocket on Miami Vice. If you're going to wear pink shirts and white jackets with no structure, you always have three days of stubble so the aliens (and the audience in Moline) don't get confused.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:09 AM
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The alligator was pure overcompensation.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:09 AM
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And you're assuming that all men have obvious stubble. Even here on Earth, there are plenty of adult men who can't grow meaningful beards - I know a number of Asian and Native guys who really don't grow much by way of facial hair, plus I know one fine-haired very blond white guy whose stubble shows up only very slightly after several days of non-shaving.

Again, I think what's happening is that folks are unconsciously imagining the type of human who most strongly embodies whatever we each think of as gender cues and assuming that this type of person is the type of person Breq will always encounter.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:09 AM
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Also, hobbits have no facial hair. That's how you can tell them from dwarves when you can't see their feet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:11 AM
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I'm mostly just being argumentative.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:13 AM
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If I can ask a slightly different question than LB's, do other readers gender the characters as they read? Do you try to figure out what they really are? I think because I don't have any visual imagination I'm not going to try to picture any of it, but I'm led to believe people do that and I wonder whether it would be frustrating to be unsure whether they're doing it "right." I know I haven't been bothered by letting undifferentiated she feel sufficient and I certainly haven't felt pushed to consider any of the characters as men despite not entirely thinking of them as women either, but I wonder whether something about this is difficult for others.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:24 AM
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On another note, I am preparing a proposal budget with a lot of money set aside for humanized mice. I keep hoping that this means that they are giant, cuddly and wear clothes, but I have a sinking feeling that this is not the case.

If I had a humanized mouse to keep me company, I bet I wouldn't get so sleepy at my desk in the afternoons.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:25 AM
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I haven't read the series, but it doesn't strike me as implausible that the character would regularly mix up genders. Sure, there are heuristics like height that you could use, but the salience of those heuristics I'd bet results from the fact that you're used to categorizing the world in gender binaries and so have noticed that men tend to be taller, etc. If you told me that on average, Mormon men are taller than 5'9'' while out of state coffee drinking liberals are stunted at an average of 5'8", I don't think I'd be reliably good at sorting out one from the other just on the basis of height.

The Calabat is just starting to learn that there are boys and girls, but it amuses me that while he knows the words, he's still not sure what distinctions they track. Mommy is a girl. Calabat is a boy. Therefore, Daddy must be a girl, because Daddy is an adult, like Mommy. Friend Jane is a boy, because she is Caleb's age. Daddy is also a her, because honestly, fuck pronouns.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:27 AM
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I don't care too much, but someone get the WIE in 53.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:27 AM
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re: 53

xelA seems to mostly get it right, although I don't think he is overly concerned about it. He has been asking if he has a baby in his tummy, though.*

Years ago, my cousin lived in Germany, and her kids went to a German speaking nursery. Much like Calabat's reasoning, they decided that adults spoke English, and children spoke German.

* one of my wife's friends in pregnant.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:29 AM
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Also, he ate a baby.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:30 AM
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51: We actually discussed this in class!

First, I think it's pretty clear that - just as with Stars In My Pockets Like Grains of Sand - the frustration and its attendant thinky things are intended by the author.

Second - I found that I tended to oscillate between thinking of all the characters as women-as-we-know-them (which was a really neat experience - there are very, very few swashy-buckly SF novels where the vast majority of the characters are women. Timmi DuChamp's Marq'ssan series, which is excellent, and Nicola Griffith's Ammonite, which is also excellent, are the only two that come immediately to mind) and thinking of them as sort of non-gendered/muted-gendered. I don't know how to describe it better than that - the part of my thinking about them as characters which was normally devoted to gender was just sort of emptied out. I didn't spend much time trying to think of what they "really" were, except as an experiment - we know that Seivarden would be considered male on Earth, so I sometimes spent some time trying consciously to think of her in different genders, to see how differently I felt about her initial asshole-ishness and character arc.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:30 AM
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Also is it a related narrative choice or just shorthand that the characters all use "fuck!" in the non-sexual forms we do?


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:33 AM
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Reminds me of a legendary conversation in my family, when mom was pregnant with younger sister, gender then unknown.

Older sister, then 4: "When a baby is born, is it wearing clothes?"

Mom: "Uh, no. Not wearing clothes."

Sister: "Then how do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"*


*This was in 1967, when clothes were a more reliable indicator (and hair length a less reliable indicator) than today.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:37 AM
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I haven't been gendering the characters, or noticing it as an issue, barring the mother/daughter pair in the second book who keep on being described as terribly attractive, and in more physical detail than most of they characters -- they sort of flipped back and forth for me in contexts (although I just realized that I had consistently thought of them as of the same gender as each other, which wouldn't necessarily be the case even with a strong resemblance). I noticed in reading something about the books lately that I'd either missed or forgotten information we'd gotten from some other character about some of the Radch characters' genders.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:39 AM
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59 is super cute.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:45 AM
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Everyone seems to be talking about physical cues to gender which is interesting, and may imply that discursive cues, let's say in text should be overlooked or are too challenging? IOW, I would be interested in Breq's inner monologues, supposedly gender-free, but written (presumably?) by a woman.

Interested because watched a recent Japanese movie that in a intertextual allusive way questions how male artists represent women, based in part on Osamu Dazai's 1939 novella Joseito ...linked to goodreads because I checked women's reactions to the book

Umm, Katherine Hayles proposes a kind of Turing gender test, and in a discourse that prizes surface and performance, sort of asks if you can persuade a stranger that you "are" a gender, in that discourse space, you are.

Which, in the literary context of the pre-war point of the I-novel, is a point of Joseito


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:46 AM
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Very few men use "super cute".


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:49 AM
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>a kind of Turing gender test

Cracks me up. That'd be an interesting idea. I wonder if Turing ever thought of it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:54 AM
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I guess I should correct the above at #62 to "people who claim they are women on Goodreads" in case it makes any difference.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 8:59 AM
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62: So what you're saying is that when Leckie writes a character who has no gender, she writes a genderless character differently than a man would, because she's a woman, and that her differently written genderless character is feminized in some way because of this just as a man's genderless character would be masculinized, will he or never so? This seems very much like saying that women can't write plausible male characters and men can't write women, or possibly that we can always tell male writers from female because of how they write - an argument I'd be willing to give some credence to, but surely not one specific to Ancillary Justice?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:02 AM
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Have you heard the one about how all Chinese people look alike? Oddly enough, they don't really, but parochial western people without much experience or imagination sometimes honestly believe it. As somebody mentioned up thread, Breq is an ancillary, not a person, maybe people do, at least in terms of gender, look alike to her.

Are the Radch human, do they look like us in detail? It's never clearly stated. Musing on how the hell to pronounce Radch, I concluded at first that the "dch" must represent a phoneme not directly linked to the letters, like the "gh" in "tough"; then it occurred to me that the vocal apparatus of the Radch might be able to deal with "dch" quite easily, even if ours can't. Yes, they are erect bipeds with humanoid features and opposable thumbs (probably), but what their primary or secondary sexual characteristics look like is anybody's guess. It makes it much easier to read the books to imagine them as human, but it makes it much easier to understand Breq to imagine them as subtly other.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:03 AM
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56: "Isn't it, though?" returned the Hungry Tiger, licking his lips with his long red tongue. "Fat babies! Don't they sound delicious? But I've never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong. If I had no conscience I would probably eat the babies and then get hungry again, which would mean that I had sacrificed the poor babies for nothing. No; hungry I was born, and hungry I shall die. But I'll not have any cruel deeds on my conscience to be sorry for."


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:03 AM
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Are the Radch human, do they look like us in detail?

Right, a large part of my bitching assumes that they're either human or 'Star Wars human', both in sexual dimorphism and in capacity to handle unfamiliar arbitrary social distinctions. If those assumptions fall through, so does all my complaining.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:07 AM
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67: I didn't think there was much of a mystery about how to pronounce "Radch". How would you pronounce "Ratch"? As in, the first syllable of "ratchet"? Now, voice that final consonant - turn the "t" into a "d". There you are.

It's pronounced more or less "Raj", and the only problem with that as the name for your conquering empire that insists on stamping out traditional social divisions in pursuit of a vaguely liberal-sounding but actually pretty brutal agenda is that it's not exactly subtle.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:08 AM
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I can pronounce 'Radch' no problem at all. Although in my head, I think I was assuming the 'ch' was a /x/ [as in the end of 'Loch'].

Pronouncing it 'Radzh' is easier, even.

Czech has nice phrases like 'strc prst skrz krk'*

* a deliberate tongue twister, but grammatical, and pronounceable.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:12 AM
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69: But people suck at unfamiliar arbitrary social distinctions!


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:13 AM
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55: A friend of mine when I was very young was raised in a trilingual household (in retrospect I am jealous of that), due to her father coming from a group that spoke one language and her mother coming from a group that spoke a different one, and both spoke english as well. She ended up believing that there was a male language, and a female language, and a language men and women used to communicate with each other, and would offer to translate for couples who were trying to talk german to each other (or whatever) instead of english.*

I'm with the people who didn't find it especially hard to believe Breq's confusion - different cultures here have different cues when it comes to clothing, after all, which is a big deal. And when we try to come up with obvious physical differences (e.g., stubble) they're often linked to features of people with one ancestry rather than another (men with european heritage are, from what I can tell, probably the only group where stubble is reliably there as a cue - most groups have a lot less as far as facial hair goes). Height could kind of work, but learning the important averages/relative height could take a long time/require think that gender is a really big deal, or lot more important than Breq seems to anyway. (Imagine Breq living in, say, Norway for a few years and then moving to China. Distinguishing genders with beards and height is going to get problematic really quickly.)


*I'm not sure how this made sense when she learned all three languages, but gender is complicated for adults let alone small children.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:14 AM
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70: Several people thought of it as pronounced sort of "hRadk" - both were Jewish and saw it as relating to Hebrew pronunciation, if memory serves. I myself cannot replicate how I hear it in my head.

We talked a lot about Orientalism and how we felt about Leckie's use of a hodge-podge of vaguely Far Eastern stuff as Radch culture - was it just a standard SFnal template for otherness? The one woman of Chinese background in the class said that she specifically enjoyed this aspect because she felt that a lot of leftie Western SF doesn't take into account imperialism by Asian powers.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:17 AM
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What's the ordering of humanness in terms of gendering? Human-human, Star Trek-human, Star Wars-human, Goodreads-human?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:24 AM
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Pronouncing it 'Radzh' is easier, even.

Why would you pronounce it "Radzh"? If it was pronounced that way it would be spelled that way (or "Radj" for an Anglophone readership). Voiced "d" followed immediately by unvoiced "ʃ", "x" or "χ" really isn't all that easy and unlikely to occur in a very common word.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:24 AM
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66: I myself would make no such strong assertions, but simply state that, interested, I am looking into the matter. But, yes, but not even as a hypothesis, it is possible that "men" and "women" would portray genderless characters differently. (Yes, thinking about LeGuin, Varley?, Tiptree)

I am trying to take embodiment (not bodies) seriously, at least giving it more credence than some idea of a transcendent abstracted self that can relate to another TAS.

Another review of Joseito which does mention some possible issues with Dazai's representation. I confess I haven't read the work myself.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:36 AM
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72: No they don't! See, e.g., my prior example of military draftees.

They're imperfect, but not totally helpless like Breq.

73: I'm with the people who didn't find it especially hard to believe Breq's confusion - different cultures here have different cues when it comes to clothing, after all, which is a big deal. And when we try to come up with obvious physical differences (e.g., stubble) they're often linked to features of people with one ancestry rather than another (men with european heritage are, from what I can tell, probably the only group where stubble is reliably there as a cue - most groups have a lot less as far as facial hair goes).

I think you're stretching things a bit to make guessing biological/reproductive sex harder than it is. There are a number of physical tells, which are all pretty good on their own, and when you have them all they're quite good. Height. Vocal pitch. Breasts. Hip/waist proportions. Muscularity/fat distribution generally. Facial hair/stubble. Facial structure. Hairline shape (baldness, but also the slight receding that most even non-bald adult men have). All those are different, somewhat, between different ethnic groups, such that an isolated member of a different ethnic group might be more confusing than a member of a familiar group, but with some familiarity with the group you're looking at, it's not that hard to do with fairly high (even if imperfect) accuracy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:36 AM
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Wait, so are these not the books with a space Jesuit?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:38 AM
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The Dune series has space Jews, but only after the series has just gone off the deep end .


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:40 AM
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78: And that's assuming you're getting no help at all from the social/dress cues, which in pretty much all Earth cultures are glaring. They might be unfamiliar to someone who just got off a ship that minute, but the character in question is spending months to decades in various societies, and doesn't seem to learn much.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:42 AM
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Naw, nosflow, those are Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and, um, the other one.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:43 AM
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I suppose "the other one" might be A Canticle for Liebowitz, but it was The Sparrow that I had somehow gotten mixed up with these books.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:44 AM
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I've actually read Liebowitz, unlike any of the other books heretofore mentioned.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:44 AM
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Leibowitz, apparently.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:45 AM
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77: Yabbut, "Leckie is a lady and therefore what's important is to establish the lady-ness in how she writes her genderless characters" does not, frankly, seem like an especially feminist question to me, and it seems like the kind of question which would, in any case, only begin to be answered by comparing a large number of genderless characters written by male and female authors. I think that saying that Breq shares lady-ness with the genderless characters in Le Guin, for instance, actually requires some pretty reductionist readings of those characters.

I do surmise that women are more likely to write genderless characters, for much the same reasons that straight women tend to write and consume slash fiction - to wit, "woman character" is a profoundly limiting category, and writing genderless characters is a way of writing women. This is not the same as saying that we can pick the rhetorical "tells" out of genderless characters by women as a kind of gotcha.

79: Not the space Jesuit. I find the space Jesuit books [assuming we're thinking of the same space Jesuit books] really creepy and IMO the writer should just give in and write dub-con tentacle slash fic, which seems to be her deepest desire.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:45 AM
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Or maybe A Case of Conscience, regarding which Wikipedia says "The novel is the first part of Blish's thematic "After Such Knowledge" trilogy, followed by Doctor Mirabilis, Black Easter, and The Day After Judgment". So it's a tetralogy?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:46 AM
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86: You appear to be engaging in conversation with bob mcmanus on a literary topic. That's cool and all if that's what you want to do, but … just thought I'd check in.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:47 AM
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Height. Vocal pitch. Breasts. Hip/waist proportions. Muscularity/fat distribution generally. Facial hair/stubble. Facial structure. Hairline shape (baldness, but also the slight receding that most even non-bald adult men have).

Many of these are related to the hormones that are related to reproduction. Working under the assumption that reproduction has been outsourced, would human bodies need or keep them? I'm not disagreeing there'd be cultural markers, but I think even though the Radch do use the word "human" to describe their bodies and the bodies of their conquered subjects (but not, for instance, the alien Rrrrrrr, right?) we can't just assume that the bodies would follow the exact same layouts ours do.

On the other hand, my kids are probably still sure that you can accurately gender an animal by seeing if it has long eyelashes, since that's the message so clearly sent by cartoons. I do realize that imagining a different way of looking at things is a bit hard and weird!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:48 AM
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It's wrong, but it's way less awkward than having them try to look at the crotch of every dog they see.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:51 AM
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Working under the assumption that reproduction has been outsourced, would human bodies need or keep them?

Probably, at least for a long time? It's not like you can just check in with evolution and say "fyi, we no longer have need of x, y, and z".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:51 AM
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72: No they don't! See, e.g., my prior example of military draftees.

I would argue that your counter examples are kind of terrible because they are specifically about super-codified signals about very crisply defined roles in highly regular and ceremonial settings.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:51 AM
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Yeah but you're picking out various ones which are going to be more or less useful in different cultures. In some places vocal pitch is really, really helpful and in other places the difference is subtle enough that it's the sort of thing you mostly pick up on after the fact - once you know the gender of the person. Stubble/hair stuff is the same way. Facial structure is going to be subject to the they-all-look-the-same phenomena. Mashing them all together and trying to apply it across cultures is going to result in even more confusion than picking any one single characteristic because you're going to get a constantly varying hodgepodge of different traits of ambiguous importance.

Try, by parallel, to explain to someone who literally has no concept of race how to tell the distinguish in practice between African Americans and people who are not African Americans. Complexion is probably the first thing to think of, but then again there are plenty of very white people with darker skin than some African American people. There are various characteristic features, but again lots of them are shared with other racial groups, or not present in a bunch of African Americans, or present to some extent but less present to others, and so on. We can mostly tell, and if you gave someone that foreign time and a lot of education about race and what it means and why it's important, and they put a lot of effort into it they could start to get it. But it's not a simple application of criteria that you can list, and a person that thinks the distinction is silly and/or vaguely nonsensical is going to screw it up a lot. Add in that Breq is moving between lots of different cultures with different gender norms, and that she's not entirely human in the first place and has a radically different sense of being embodied and it seems reasonable that you'd see a lot of mistakes.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:52 AM
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Well, yes -- if they're not in an Earth human range of sexual dimorphism, my bitching is less valid. There's nothing to disprove that I can see in the books (there's actually no clear statement that the species in question has two sexes -- I think "gender is an arbitrarily assigned social distinction with no connection to the bodies of the gendered people" is not absolutely ruled out), but it's not how it seemed most natural to me to read them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:55 AM
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That require training and boot camp to understand.

Better analogues: how good is your average white American at perceiving facial differences in other unfamiliar ethnic groups (as mentioned upthread?), even if those differences are extremely important to that ethnic group?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:55 AM
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89: My cat has long eyelashes! And she's a girl!

Or actually, I got into this huge argument with an animal rights activist about whether all animals have gender (as opposed to biological sex and not including animals with complexly social cultures). He said yes, I said no, and now when I ventriloquize the cat's deepest thoughts they often go "Cats don't have gender OR a hereditary aristocracy, so stop calling me a perfect princess cat".


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:57 AM
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93 -> 78 (this is moving faster than I can easily type, clearly).

And that's assuming you're getting no help at all from the social/dress cues, which in pretty much all Earth cultures are glaring.

This is something similar sounding to me: it looks glaring because of how basic to our conceptions these kinds of differences are. But again imagine trying to explain (for just one culture!) the differences to a martian and how endless the confusions would be.

"Oh, ok I get it so the bifurcated narrow lower coverings are called "pants" and are worn by men and the single looser ones are called "skirts" and are worn by women, except when they aren't which is plenty of the time?"
"Yes"
"So that there is a man?"
"Yes"
"And that is a woman?"
"No"
"But the lower covering!"
"Yes but that's not a skirt it's a kilt"
"...ok? And that one over there is also wearing a kilt, right?"
"No, that's a plaid skirt."
(and so on, for years)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:57 AM
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Actually, Turing's original test was a gender test. http://www.loebner.net/Prizef/TuringArticle.html


Posted by: y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:58 AM
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Depending on how "gender" is understood I think you could make a pretty strong case for even animals (other than humans!) with complex social structures not having it.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 9:59 AM
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And it's worth noting that not only does Breq find it bizarre, stupid, and unimportant for the most part it is unimportant to her. I mean, usually she has at least a fifty percent chance of getting it right, and mostly when she gets it wrong pronouns don't come up in the first place, and mostly when she gets it wrong and someone notices they probably don't mention it or correct her* and so on. So it's just this random thing and, occasionally, people freak out at her for it for no obvious** reason.


*PRIVILEGE!
**Obvious to people who think it's really important, but not to her - misgendering someone doesn't necessarily matter that to people in a lot of contexts, and then in others it really really really matters, and the distinction between those two kinds of contexts is based on... gender!


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:01 AM
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*that much


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:02 AM
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99: That was kind of what I wanted to argue, but this fellow had a robust and primitive notion of gender, so I figured leaving at as "some kind of differentiation that we can understand as 'cultural' that is sort of mappable to what we understand as biological sex" was probably the best we were going to get.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:03 AM
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94 to 89.

92: I would argue that people actually do learn to navigate, e.g., socioeconomic class signals in foreign cultures pretty well if you give them some time, but it's going to be a hard argument because I have literally no data and what does 'pretty well' mean? So while I want to say that, I won't, because I can't back it up. But I'm thinking it.

But also, gender is a pretty simple category at the level Breq's fumbling it -- what she's having trouble with is binary sorting, she's not even thinking about with people with more complex gender identities. And Earth human societies, while they're arbitrary and complicated about gender signals, they aren't subtle. People have lots of information about their gender hanging all over them. I could type Breq up a checklist less than a page long in an hour or so that would let her gender people around here with pretty good accuracy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:03 AM
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People have lots of information about their gender hanging all over them

That's right, laydeez. Lots and lots.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:06 AM
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97: But while there are hard cases, there are easy rules that cover most of the people you're going to run into. The last time I saw a man in a kilt was several years ago; while I'd recognize it as a masculine garment, someone who thought it was a women's skirt wouldn't actually get any substantial number of people wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:06 AM
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78:Umm, I just watched Farewell My Concubine

I guess I'm more with Braq, in that performance, or better the way performance intersects with embodiment, is more interesting than gender and can make gender less relevant.

Bore you with anime, Blood+ has

1) A young female lead, very delicate and fragile, who must fight huge powerful almost invulnerable monsters with a big sword. Her advantage is that a single nick will kill the monsters. She is assisted by helpers who act as, and call themselves her "Shield" in an ancient style of fighting.

2) Several male characters that perform an aggressive masculinity, for instance leaving shield position in a desire to protect her and fight directly. They lose, and endanger everybody.

3) A character who changes male-to-female at will, performing each as embodied.

4) A gay male who performs "female." Sorry if this is offensive.

5) A nurturing women doctor

6) The big bad final boss, a thousand-year-old female vampire.

I can't say for sure what the artist's point is, but I am aware, or feel, that I should stop worrying so much about what a character "is" or what they are "performing." But maybe I am wrong.

I don't know from Breq and Leckie, but presuming Breq's culture is not monolithic, but on the contrary celebrates difference and pluralism, maybe she/he grew up in a society, scientifically advanced where people had options for hirsuteness or shaving the front of their skulls, adding breasts and hip fat, artificially lowering their voices, etc etc and took advantage to play. Those circumstances would make it much more difficult to see difference in other cultures as "gender" difference/


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:08 AM
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How can she have so much trouble with gender identification when she's known for her beautiful, well-shampooed hair?


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:12 AM
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but on the contrary celebrates difference and pluralism

No.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:13 AM
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Although I would agree that I'd have a much easier time buying Breq's total confusion if her home culture were a 'let your freak flag fly' kind of place.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:15 AM
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107: Does anybody under 40 get that?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:16 AM
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I wouldn't know, would I?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:17 AM
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Since I haven't read the Leckie books, I will make it a factual question:

Is Breq's egalitarian liberal society one where everybody wears Mao pajamas, or one where people have purple hair and surgically attached ram's horns, or do we know?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:18 AM
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More the former than the latter. Ornaments and fashion, but all rigidly socially structured rather than expressions of individuality.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:22 AM
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And it's not egalitarian and liberal. Hierarchical and totalitarian, more. Just genderless.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:22 AM
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Didn't ship-Breq spend decades on each planet? A lot of time for even a blinkered imperialist to amass experience, especially when you have dozens/hundreds of eyes and a lot of time spent with nothing to do but watch people.

I'd like to retcon that her troubles with gender emerged when she was forced into one brain, but I don't think that's how it was described.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:28 AM
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87: Sort of, but more after the fact, and only thematically connected.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:29 AM
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112: The interventionism is liberal, in that it's framed as rescue/civilizing and as making conquered people into Radchaii. (Of course they aren't equal, really.) At the time of the books, the Radch is in a liberal/reform phase in which certain kinds of military intervention and certain kinds of weapon are being declared off limits and expansion is, in theory, being halted.

The Radch itself is not "liberal" in any technical sense - the economy has socialist elements, with everyone entitled to basic housing, cultural access and food (but it's pretty basic indeed) and a strong centralized state, and it's very clear that capitalism doesn't work much as it does on Earth. And it's not "liberal" in any letting-the-freak-flag-fly sense either, although there's certainly plenty of loucheness and debauchery.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:30 AM
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But the places where Breq has trouble with gender are almost all places that are new to her - that terrific hardboiled opening on the icy planet and the garden/dome/fish/tea planet in particular. I don't think we get a lot of "here I am on the planet where I've been for years, what is everyone's gender" when she's on lost-love-and-tragedy planet.

Several people here have said that they found Breq really difficult to understand or identify with. My class found her an extremely engaging and comprehensible protagonist, so that's really difficult for me to really get. I found the whole lost-love-tragedy plot really affecting and sad - is this because I am such a cold fish that Breq's "I will have almost no feelings and be pushy" personality reads as ideal to me?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:34 AM
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112:The interventionism is liberal, in that it's framed as rescue/civilizing and as making conquered people into Radchaii.

Near exact justification the Japanese Empire used in Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, and China.

I would use "liberal" in exactly that way, and consider it fair and accurate, but I am considered an outlier


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:36 AM
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I didn't reread the books before the post, but hadn't she been on the icy planet for years (or at least months)? It was the same planet where the tragic death happened, right?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:36 AM
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But she doesn't really care, except as it affects her / annoys her. She can learn complex patterns (all that music) but doesn't bother to learn barbarian distinctions. And gender is barbarous. (I do like the comparison to the Raj.)


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:37 AM
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115 - Sort of, though 118 is right. But I think you'd also see a pretty strong "our ruthless conquerors don't care about our gender norms and will just call us whatever we want don't make waves just let it happen" phenomenon during those extended periods. That's especially the case when it comes to interacting with the creepy human-robots like Breq.

From what I can recall of the Radch there was a significant level of decoration but with strong rules involved, so more like military decorations than anything else. And they also had some pretty intense norms about covering up as much as possible too - robes/coats; gloves; etc, which would (in their culture) disguise a lot of the physical differences between the sexes as well.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:38 AM
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South Africa 64-0 USA. Unlucky there!

|>


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:42 AM
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118.2: Kuudere tvtropes


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:43 AM
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62: While you have access to Breq's inner-monologues, she's probably the least interesting/insightful character to gender. She's (heyy, spoilers) an AI that was given a body after many years spent non-corporally, in a gender neutral society. While her body has sexual characteristics, it wasn't even picked as a representation of her; somebody who was pissed at her chose it to particularly annoy her (if I recall, she has a big thing for songs and the body initially had a lisp or tonedeafness or something that'd get in her way?).

Frowner, I did something similar to you: alternating between "everyone's a woman" and "this is a genderless world [that I can't fully comprehend, but whatever]". We're certainly given clues about the physicality of Seivarden and maybe a few other minor characters, but they're hard for me to remember and really, who cares? It's possible that you could maybe track that more impulsive characters (and there does seem to be a impulsive/patient dichotomy, but maybe it only looks like that because Breq and the god-emperor take the long view) against masculinity, but I'm not sure even I buy that.

I did find it distracting that pronouns and familial terms are all feminine, while social rank/address (especially military) terms are masculine. This is partially due to masculine terms becoming gender neutral in our world and the feminine one taking other connotations, e.g. "priest" vs "priestess", but it's distracting that her/she/mother/sister is contrasted against sir/Lord*. Sometimes it'd feel like the characters' personal lives were feminine and their military-professional ones were masculine, which is not really a good place to be.

I did think Breq's cluelessness was maybe a little bit played up, but not too much. I think this world makes very clear that relying on physical characteristics isn't useful because while (some of) the non-Radchaai societies have genders, they don't map onto our standard cis innie-vs-outie distinction. Breq knows about those; she comments how the genitalia festival only celebrates outies. So each society has some other arbitrary clues, and maybe she should be a bit faster to pick them up, but most of the vignettes we see her in she's only been in a given culture for a short time. And anyway, she is (to varying degrees throughout the books) a cultural imperialist. But yeah, she's a walking future computer--she should pick up on the pattern faster.

Anyway, fun books. I'm enjoying the third one, although it hasn't really picked up yet. The Translator characters are lots of fun, in the grand tradition of wackily-inscrutible aliens.

* Although I guess Lord can be gender neutral, in that Queen Elizabeth II is technically the hilariously gendered Lord of Mann.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:46 AM
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I think this world makes very clear that relying on physical characteristics isn't useful because while (some of) the non-Radchaai societies have genders, they don't map onto our standard cis innie-vs-outie distinction.

Does it? I didn't pick up on that at all (as not absolutely ruled out, yes, but not as established).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:47 AM
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I am slightly punchy from having stayed up all night reading book 3.

51:
> If I can ask a slightly different question than LB's, do other readers gender the characters as they read?
Yes. For instance, based on the opening to book 1, I can't shake the feeling that Breq is female and Seviarden is male. (On stricter examination, all the text says is that those are the genders the Nilters assigned them, but Seivarden was naked in the snow, so...) I also mentally cast Klar Five as male and Lt. Tisarwat as female; the last seems especially likely to reflect ingrained sexism.
Interestingly (or not), I keep imagining Anaander Mianaai as having bodies of both sexes, which doesn't fit with the story telling us they're all genetically identical. (Unless, hmmm, you took the male chromosome set, removed the Y, and duplicated the X? Close enough to identical for Breq not to care about the difference?)
> Do you try to figure out what they really are?
I try to avoid it, but it's hard not to.

As for whether the Radch are human, in Book 3, they certainly talk a lot about how they are. And on her blog, Leckie's said that the Radch, and all the other human civilizations, are descended from Earth, set about 10,000 years from now. Of course that's not strictly canonical, and for that matter the 7,000 years between now and the start of the Radch gives a lot of time for genetic tinkering.

Orientalism: Aside from the tea, this seems like a a pretty clear ROMANS IN SPAAACE setting (hegemonizing empire where supposedly everyone gets to become "citizens" eventually, with the bog-standard set of cultural institutions; syncrestic pantheon where local gods get identified with those of the hegemons; omens for all occasions; trouble with obstinate monotheists; elaborate decimal military hierarchy, formalized patron-client relationship; etc.).

Pronounciation: Leckie apparently gave guidance on this to the reader for the American audiobook of _Ancillary Justice_.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:48 AM
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120: She had been on the ice planet before, IIRC, but not recently or for long. She does have enough familiarity with the gender norms on the planet to know that she doesn't know them well, and in fact thinks about this as she tries to gender the first person she encounters. But tragedy planet was all tropical and flowering.

The Radch wear brooches which convey status and family connections. Breq has the cheapie one from tragedy planet.

Breq isn't a creepy human robot! Breq is a swashbuckling, emotionally repressed wrong-righting hero, which is a role that non-men don't get to play a lot and I think that throws people. I'm not saying that all her wrong-righting is that great, but it's definitely a break from Radchaii norms.

I think you could read Breq as a sort of response to feminist-hive kinds of stories, as described by Joanna Russ - where the feminist characters are all group-thinky and subservient to the will of Feminism or a giant brain or whatever.

Also, Anander Minaai is so evil, you guys. I have rarely been as creeped out as by that scene where she's just walking down the road all by herself.

I really like how Leckie has created Breq - instead of an anti-hero, she's an anti-villain.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:52 AM
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Haven't heard of this Ancillary series before, but it sounds interesting, I'll try to look it up. It reminds me of two things.

First, Bones, which I haven't watched all that much but I'm more familiar with than this, at least. The protagonist is just as blind to pop culture, religion, and anything that could be described as irrational as this Radch apparently is about gender. It gets annoying sometimes, but it apparently hasn't kept the show from lasting for 10 seasons or more, so apparently it doesn't bug everyone too much.

And second, racial traits. In some ways there is more to racial groupings than just melanin. For example, I would have said that there's a certain shape of nose that's typical of black people - broad, flat, that kind of thing. I remember a discussion of Obama's status as half-black and I would have said that he had this nose. However, when I look at this picture of Obama's white grandfather, they clearly have the same nose, or close enough to make no difference.

This doesn't disprove that people can generally tell what race someone is by looking at them, but, I don't know, sometimes we aren't following the facts to a conclusion rather than starting from the end and then cherry-picking which facts seem relevant. Obama has a black nose because he has black skin, my cubicle neighbor's hairstyle is feminine (even though it's short) because she has nice cleavange, and so on.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:55 AM
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126: I might be reading too much into that genitalia festival scene, and possibly conflating things with other sci-fi books I've read; e.g. I couldn't remember if this was a society with artificial wombs or one where everyone is chemically impotent for the fun times but get a prescription medicine to allow regular reproduction. Or both.

So: In that scene I thought she mentioned that she knows that people have different bits, and that the...Athoek(?) have gender but that wasn't brought up as something to judge gender on. Second, at least when she was still an ancillary wasn't she hooked up into the ship's sensory network in all sorts of ways? I don't recall if that included improved sensing, but figuring our body concavity even under clothes seems like a relatively easy problem to solve. But again, I might be forgetting the details of the rules of this universe.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:56 AM
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What I mean is that Breq is as good as it's possible to be for a Radchaii. Maybe this only interests me because it's something I get a little obsessed by, but I tend to think about the tension between how good people ought to be and the limits of their goodness that are determined by their socialization. Like, I think about how I ought to be a better anti-racist than I am, because I want to be and I have a [vague, nebulous] vision of a racially just society; and yet, I know that I am constantly doing things that are both invisible to me because of my socialization and reinscribing racism. (How do I know this? Occasionally people point it out; occasionally I notice that men who I basically like do similar things about gender, or straight people do similar things about sexuality, so I assume I do similar things about race.)

Breq is an awesome Radchaii, and the fact that we see her limits is the critique of the Radch.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:58 AM
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I also mentally cast Klar Five as male

I guess other than this one I'd trend in the same way you do. I'm also not sure I'd gender the decades separately, so I'd think of all the Klar going one way. This makes no sense and definitely isn't implied by the story, especially given that they're truly human rather than ancillaries.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:59 AM
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120: The ice planet (Nilt) was definitely not the same as the tragedy planet (Shis'urna --- mercifully, I think, the only ' in the made-up names). I am pretty sure that the opening of book 1 is the first time Breq has been to Nilt --- it's outside the Radch, so she'd never have gone there as _Justice of Torren_.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:00 AM
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And leave you with an anime recomendation:Simoun 5 stars

"In the theocracy of Simulacrum Kyuukoku, everyone is born female. At age 17, each citizen undergoes a special ceremony in which she chooses a sex. However, only priestesses who have yet to choose can pilot the ancient Simoun aircraft against neighboring countries that covet the technology."

"The jarring thing for the viewer, though, is that the male transformation looks incomplete; "males" still have female voices, and may look more or less female- I'm STILL not sure what gender some of the adult characters were supposed to be.) "

However, **spoiler** the difference between Leckie and Simoun is that "our girls" are on the losing side of the war and get conquered and don't much like war anyway. The conquest ain't so bad, just technology transfer, and umm, draftable for next war.

Definitely not as much fun as identifying with a badass Romanesque conquistador-type like Breq.

Liberals.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:01 AM
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I remember seeing a passing mention on Twitter of someone lamentable who had modified the books so that they pronominalized Raadchaai as "he/him".


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:04 AM
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Also, what was the effect on Breq's judgment as to details like gender of the fact that her own most familiar form has hitherto been as a vast metal construct with an AI running a large number of zombie servitors?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:07 AM
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Breq isn't a creepy human robot! Breq is a swashbuckling, emotionally repressed wrong-righting hero, which is a role that non-men don't get to play a lot and I think that throws people.

Not when she was on those planets for years at a time, and was a ruthless conqueror sort! At that point she was* definitely and very clearly viewed that way by the human population (and with what is also clearly very plausible level of horror and resentment.)

*Or, more accurately and fairly importantly when it comes to this question, she were a creepy humans robot.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:10 AM
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very plausible level of horror and resentment

That sounds like the goal set by an unusually plain-speaking therapist.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:12 AM
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There is some discussion of Radchaai reproduction in one of the books, in the context of a non-Radchaai character asking how it works. I don't remember exactly where it is or what was said, but IIRC, children are often (not always) gestated in artificial wombs.


Posted by: kevinjy | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:13 AM
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"Client now has levels of horror that are closely supported by an awareness of human nature and current events."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:14 AM
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137 was me.

129.3/4: The idea is that race is a kind of distinction (like a lot if not all ones) where there isn't a distinctive applicable criteria. African Americans may have flatter noses, but so do plenty of East Asians so that's not going to help you - and what even counts as a distinctively African American nose, or a lot of features, really only counts in an after-the-facts gestalt kind of way. (I was also shocked when I saw pictures of Obama's grandfather because, wow, there is a strong resemblance there, and his grandfather is not black looking at all.) We can mostly pick it out, but not in a direct or obviously explicable way - it's one of those things we learn, like most things, by repeated iterations of "this? no. this? yes. this? no." and so on until we "get" it, whatever it is.*


*Chick sexing! More things are like this than people realize, I think. Chick sexing is just a really, really unambiguous version of it because we can't pick out general kinds of sort-of/for-the-most-part/etc. resemblances like we can with a lot of other things.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:16 AM
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137: Well, yes, that's the whole point. The whole point of the books is the fact that Breq is both, and that's why I think we're meant to identify with her. "She's a creepy oppressor robot, that's so creepy" really doesn't get us much forrader, polically. I mean, we, for the value of 'educated Western SF fans', are the Radch. Ancillary Justice is addressed, I think, to feminist SF fans precisely as a way to talk about the complexities of gender and empire and how we can understand ourselves as the baddies. "I am not a baddy because I am nothing like a creepy oppressor robot rightly regarded with horror" is not what we're supposed to take away. "I have weird experiences of gender and embodiment and have been oppressed and constrained in truly fucked up ways which I am now trying to understand and process, I am a do-gooder who is in some ways on the side of the marginalized and I am still an imperialist" is what I feel like we're supposed to get out of it.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:18 AM
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Chick sexing is a great gift to philosophy.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:18 AM
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137.last brings up a good point: the Ancillary books fuck up every dimension of our pronoun system. Gender, number, person (clones/ancillaries referring to other instances), personhood (it vs she), it's all there.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:19 AM
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142: Also, "I am actually constituted by an imperialist regime, even though I suffer because of how I am constituted under imperialism".

I feel like the whole series was basically written to social justice tumblr.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:21 AM
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142: Also, "I am actually constituted by an imperialist regime, even though I suffer because of how I am constituted under imperialism".

I feel like the whole series was basically written to social justice tumblr.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:21 AM
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142: Also, "I am actually constituted by an imperialist regime, even though I suffer because of how I am constituted under imperialism".

I feel like the whole series was basically written to social justice tumblr.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:21 AM
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Really, that's how I feel.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:22 AM
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Is "social justice" a verb there?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:23 AM
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142 etc: I buy this.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:24 AM
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142 - Yes, but at the time when she was living for years and years on particular planets super creepy oppressor robot made out of the bodies of people conquered people taken by the by force and turned into zombies (in a procedure that, as the book describes it, is really disturbing) is exactly what she was. We really only start to identify with her in a serious way during the actual events of the book - which for the most part happens after that's no longer true, or at least after most of it isn't. That's also the point where most of the conflicts caused by misidentifying gender show up.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:25 AM
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Keeps getting worse and worse for me.

You become aware of and change from being constituted by an imperial regime by humbly listening to the conquered, oppressed, and subaltern not by empathic identification with the "nice and getting nicer" centurion.

Kathryn Bigelow can direct the HBO adaptation.

And all the fine young ladies
So lovely and so true
Were handed to the soldiers (but yuri-style!)
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:47 AM
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I haven't read the books, and this is breaking the analogy ban, but isn't it common to the point of cliche that american soldiers can't tell the difference between say South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Hmong, and Chinese or say Sunni, Shia, Kurds, and Lur? To a large extent this is surely driven by people not actually giving a damn, but I bet it still happens a lot to soldiers who like to tell themselves that they do give a damn. So I guess I buy a bunch of the arguments above along the lines of "well, yes a reasonable smart person who was seriously trying could figure it out would be fine, but most soldiers fail even ones who think they're trying."


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:56 AM
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A lot of LB's questions can be waved away by a couple of assumptions:

Cosma in 51 says a lot of what I was typing before I decided to catch up with the thread.

* The Radch are a conquering, assimilating empire with rigid rules and hierarchies.
* They have technology far beyond ours, both in the hard and soft arenas. The tech that makes ancillaries, their starships, and more. Also great tea.
* Radch can be of many different races, even species, depending on what the so-far-not-fully-explained backstory is. E.g., human expansion into the galaxy then speciation? "Star Wars humans" (which is sort of what Banks' Culture had -- most Culture species were humanoid but not related to each other the way we are to homo neandertalensis Pwned by 51.).

So, in a regimented not-all-human society that blanks out gender and gender roles, a Radch who grows stubble is going to use a permanent dipilatory, a Radch with large breasts is going to flatten them, maybe undergo breast reduction. Radch whose racial looks are far from the Radch norm possibly go even further to fit in as part of the empire.

The LB question that can't be fudged is why Breq can't learn to recognize gender. That one pretty much confused me too. But, there are incidents where non-Breq Radch seem to recognize gender just fine, or at least that's how I read a some scenes in both of the first two books.

Looking forward to the time to read the third book.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 12:12 PM
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|?

Gender?

Wapo:How American women fell behind Japanese women in the workplace 64% labour participation versus 63% US

Wonkblog's American liberal answer: daycare!, and ain't Abe neat. The new expansionist military thing, well, that has nothing to do with American-style feminism

Probable more important factor?

Economist ...separatism.

"The second change is that, among certain groups, people are not merely marrying later. They are not getting married at all. In 2010 a third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single. Perhaps half or more of those will never marry. In 2010 37% of all women in Taiwan aged 30-34 were single, as were 21% of 35-39-year-olds. This, too, is more than in Britain and America, where only 13-15% of those in their late 30s are single. If women are unmarried entering their 40s, they will almost certainly neither marry nor have a child."

You know, the culture filled with unmarried childless working women is kinda fun, and produces interesting art.

|>


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 1:24 PM
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Huh, I guess I'll have to check these books out. I have, for as long as I can remember having thought about the matter, been more than a little skeptical of 'gender' myself. There is nothing that's appropriate for a man and not for a woman, and vice versa, and certainly not in the important realms of morality or ethics (there are no masculine or feminine virtues, properly speaking, but only virtues (not Virtue, as I'm no believer in their unity)).

Basically, "gender is barbarous" seems like a good representation of my opinion, and it doesn't seem to be that "out there" of an idea for even a regular ol' human of Earth to have. Moreover, because I'm an imperialist asshole (of a sort), I'm not content to merely self-identify as genderless while believing in the gendered natures of others. Instead I have something of the same opinion of gender as I do of 'sin'--no one has ever or will ever sin, and no one's identification or personal self-understanding could play any part in this. Sin has no place in any of the correct possible metaphysical frameworks. Between a Gender Error Theory ('gender' makes sense, but is always ascribed falsely) or Gender Nihilism ('gender' is not meaningful), I'm agnostic.

Probably this odd opinion of mine stems from my own personal experience of lacking a strong connection to either gender role, but it also ties into my (admittedly cranky) general aversion to the emphases placed on 'self' and 'agency' in Western culture. I am, for what it's worth, male. (I'd bet most people believing something like "those facets of humanness that are self-instantiated through belief or behavior are among the least important and are in many cases wholly illusory" are males, because it is fairly chauvinistic, which is more closely tied to masculinity, which more males identify with.) I suppose I can make sense of gender as a purely performative concept, completely shorn of any subjective and normative feeling of idelity to a pre-existing aspect of self, but that's not 'gender' as it's taken to be in the wild, among the folk.

I'm not tactless enough to share any of these thoughts outside a venue like this, of course, any more than I walk into churches or temples looking to share my hot-shot opinions on Yahweh. But it would be nice to believe that something like Radch-hood is in humanity's future, and we'll one day look back on 'male/female' as we already see 'sinner', 'one possessed by demons', 'angerer/pleaser of Thor', etc.


Posted by: protoplasm | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 1:24 PM
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Before I go and read the whole thread, I parsed Breq on this subject more or less like an adult Hungarian speaking English: They grew up in a language that has one word for the third-person singular, and so when they come along to speak English with our tricksy he/she/it distinctions, they mangle it continuously and hopelessly. Breq has gotten over the linguistic issue by adopting a single pronoun for humans.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 1:44 PM
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Doug, I'm still stuck on Mort. I miss the wizards and witches.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 1:50 PM
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||

To respond to questions down in the Economist article about drastically gendered "domestic labour" differentials causing women to choose to be single, well, ok, but do we really want women to get married and have children, and if so, why? Do we want the state to tip those scales?

And do we honestly believe that the 85-90% married-with-children rates of the US and UK actually represent a not-socially-determined free choice of women in a liberated society? Isn't that a radically essentialist attitude, implying a biological determinism or an acceptance of patriarchal roles?

Subsidized daycare is patriarchal. Abe is an asshole, and don't forget it.

And as seen in this thread, American-style feminism/gender studies is (culturally) imperialist as hell. It can't not be.

Ok, I'm through. World gives a sad. (I saw what you said, neb)

|>


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 1:50 PM
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"Hi, is Mr. Radch there? First name Mike."


Posted by: Bart Simpson | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 2:35 PM
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Moby @158: By all means skip ahead to Wyrd Sisters!

Guards! Guards! starts up another sequence that seems to be a favorite of many readers. I've only read that one so far, so I can't say whether it will also be a favorite of mine.

Pyramids and Moving Pictures are both one-offs, in terms of their setting, although some wizards to turn up in both. I'm tired of Rincewind, so I didn't much care for Eric.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 3:05 PM
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I need to get $7 worth of enjoyment before I can skip the rest.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 3:08 PM
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If I don't, all economics is proven wrong.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 3:12 PM
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144: it must be giving translators a lot of fun.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 3:17 PM
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164. Not Hungarian ones! They probably wonder what all the fuss is about.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 4:35 PM
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164. Not Hungarian ones! They probably wonder what all the fuss is about.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 4:35 PM
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164. Not Hungarian ones! They probably wonder what all the fuss is about.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 4:35 PM
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Some non-Hungarians hate triple-posting. Oh, the shame! All die!


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 4:36 PM
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Leckie discussing translations, including Hungarian:
http://www.annleckie.com/2014/08/20/translations-ancillary-justice/


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 4:39 PM
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Anne Garréta's Sphinx sounds interesting (moreso in its original French than in English, confessedly).


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 5:09 PM
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Are there any human languages that fail entirely to inflect anything at all, even pronouns, for gender? I mean obviously there would be words for (biological) "man" and "woman" but with single-sexed pronouns, no gendered nouns or articles, etc. Would be interesting to know.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:33 PM
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170: have you read it? I'd like to but haven't yet. There's a book by someone who calls herself Anna Livia on Frenchband English books that mess with pronouns and it seemed the most interesting. (There's of course also Winterson's Wrotten on the Body except no one believes "you" is a man, right?)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:43 PM
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And Wikipedia explains. Judging from that list it would seem that having few or no gender specific words has little or nothing to do with a culture's actual gender relations.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:45 PM
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171: In theory or usage?

In Japanese, "boku" and "atashi" are theoretically not gendered, but very gendered (but not rigidly so) in practice. "Watashi" (or "watakushi" for assholes) is formal, and used by both genders.

But Japanese has in most ways none of the m-f-n distinctions Latin-derived languages have.

Lots of pronouns and verb forms, but not gendered theoretically. The comparison between extreme formal speech like academic and formal polite feminine speech; and between ordinary ungendered speech and extreme feminine submissively polite speech or submissive masculine speech are all conventional not formal.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 6:58 PM
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171 and situational/relational

Senko Maynard goes through a short conversation between a young man and woman that goes through three different politeness and formality/gender levels in five minutes.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:02 PM
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From that Wikipedia page, it looks like Persian and Malay are languages that have essentially no gender distinctions at all, and not the Japanese thing where women use a conventionally different version of the formally non-gendered language.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:05 PM
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Is there a way to tell if a Japanese woman is pissed at you when she's speaking English? Asking for a friend.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:11 PM
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Or American women speaking in English. Or American men. Or German men.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:24 PM
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177:Male or female "friend", American or Japanese? All situational you see

In anime if they aren't hitting or yelling, they will be muttering "baka" under their breath. Daikirai is another word to know.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:24 PM
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As long as nobody is muttering, I'll figure I'm good.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 7:32 PM
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172: I haven't but I want to, but also I admit to being less interested in reading it in English than in French (which, since I don't know French, is inconvenient), since it strikes me as being less of an impressive technical feat in English.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:18 PM
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178: Annexing the Sudetenland is typically regarded as a warning signal. Especially if he keeps it for more than $7 worth of enjoyment.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:36 PM
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181: Ah, I didn't realize you didn't read French. I have the same preference but I think could keep up. I'm not sure if it's snobbishness or delusion or reality to think most of the postmodernists/poststructuralists read much better untranslated. (For those keeping tabs at home, I don't expect Mara's France-themed birthday to feature Irigaray or anything, or not unless she specifically requests that.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 10:46 PM
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Anyway, I can't sleep, though I've taken the pill that should make me fads fuzzily to that point perhaps as I write this, and I've finished the third and supposedly final book about Breq, whether or not more books about the Radch show up eventually.

I don't want to spoil anything and don't know that I could if I wanted to, but to me what becomes clear as things draw to a close is the extent to which all this talk about "she" has sort of cloaked the extent to which various characters are able to speak as "I," which I think ends up a more fundamental concern in some respects, with the reader having to choose which feels primary. (And Cosma or others who've finished may disagree; I felt weird saying that I hadn't thought of characters with particular genders yet having that "Oh, for real?" response to one of his guesses/assumptions, and yet that's exactly the sort of thing this story is playing with.)

I've been called sir while wearing a low-cut dress and not trying to look androgynous, though I had short hair and was sitting down. The only time my chest was groped was by a horrified late-teens guy who thought I was a fraternity brother of his in my baggy shorts and voluminous shirt and short hair at twilight, which I immediately understood and never held against him. I've sometimes tried to send signals I'm queer, sometimes (especially once I became a patent) tried not to make them overly obvious. But through it all I've gotten sir, miss, ma'am not quite randomly but close dough to make it all feel meaningless. I've been asked if I'm Selah's grandmother, if I was Lee's sister, how much older I am than Lee when the age gap was significant in a different direction. I can't easily talk about any of this perception without talking about my self-awareness and self-preservation, using my life as a lens for all of it.

People are not great at reading cues. I'd argue people aren't do great at calibrating or sending them either. We've already talked about the degree to which the Radchai are human, let alone people, and certainly the degree to which AI fall into either category (if in fact the two differ) seems like an interesting question.

Some of what I'm trying to sleepily say is part of the SF structure. In a disaster, what does it mean to take decisive action even if you upset the hierarchy? If you've been trained to have a near-robotic response to commands, would it really be freeing or threatening to feel normal human emotions?

Oh speaking of, one character who seems to have been considered male has significant weapons. Does that mean the ogged scorns him and bans him from commenting as a man. The nice thing about not having "he" is that the border isn't policed like that. From this outside reader's perspective, it's pleasant because it leaves the reader in the "I" role too, caring enough to think about the characters and plot or not (I should sleep now before I make even less sense. Sorry.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-15 11:18 PM
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especially once I became a patent

This is what it's going to be like with TPP and TTP - first they patent naturally occurring genes, then they patent whole naturally occurring organisms. When will it end?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 1:40 AM
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To the original post - you know what's a great fiction/fantasy book about taboos? China Mieville, The City & The City. Everyone pretends that completely intertwined parts of a city are two different nations and you should never recognize the part in front of you that is from the other nation.


Posted by: simulated annealing | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 4:17 AM
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185: I don't know why my phone always changes that when it's a word I use all the time, but sigh. I was not up for proofreading by that point and now I'm afraid to read what I said to see how messy and nonsensical the rest of it is.

186 is right, too. It's definitely my favorite of his.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 4:20 AM
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Maybe guessing age is more difficult cross racially. I still recall the co-worker who asked me if my sisters were my daughters. The youngest is five years younger than me


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:02 AM
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'The city and the city' is great. It will surprise no one who's read the book that Mieville did a PhD on the theory of international law.


Posted by: X. Trapnel | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:05 AM
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Did he date an archaeologist at some point or something, trapnel? I'm reading his short stories and there's one about a dig and I wasn't sure if he'd just already done the research and decided to go with it or if it was on his mind for other reasons or what. Presumably there are interviews somewhere but I'm not that much of a completist.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:17 AM
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first they patent naturally occurring genes, then they patent whole naturally occurring organisms. When will it end?

I don't know, but I don't think people's ownership of themselves should end after 20 years.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:19 AM
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Anyhow, I thought that the extreme non-gendering of many world languages, like Persian, was pretty interesting, though I guess it's Linguistics 101. I'm surprised that this doesn't come up more in arguments about political correctness, zir/ze/zim, whatever.


Posted by: Roberto Tigre | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:23 AM
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Apparently, you can't live blog a court proceeding.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:28 AM
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re: 190

Via: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steph_Swainston

Maybe? Who was an archaeologist. We used to work together, which is why it came to mind.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:47 AM
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188: He or she was probably just hitting on your sisters. Or maybe on you, with that "negging" thing.


Posted by: R. rubrum | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:50 AM
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re: 188

Someone once asked me if my wife was my daughter. We were both in our 20s at the time, I think. And certainly at the time, I don't think I looked massively older.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:01 AM
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196: I think this just emphasises how many people there are around anyone at any given time who are either very sleep-deprived, high, drunk, stupid, or just nuts.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:06 AM
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Someone once assumed I was my ex-husband's mother. I am actually 10 years older than him, but didn't think the difference was that noticeable, so it rankled considerably. (It was at the end of an 11-hour flight, and tiredness makes me look older and him younger, but still.)


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:14 AM
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re: 197

This was an old person. Although not so old or senile that I'd have expected that kind of error.

I am 6-7 years older, but given that at the time I was 28 or something, I don't think anyone could have reasonably made that mistake.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:18 AM
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199: well, is your wife really short? Or was she shrieking "I hate you! You're so embarrassing!" at the time? That could have been misleading.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:22 AM
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How does an adult get younger looking when tired?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:38 AM
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re: 200

Heh.

http://s16.postimg.org/bv7dn0xgl/leaving1_2.jpg

Which is a depressingly old (wedding) photograph, taken about a month or so before this person made that mistake.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:43 AM
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Actually, from that photo I can sort of see how that could happen. She's not very tall and quite slight, so I can see someone (especially someone with imperfect vision) underestimating her age.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:49 AM
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201: For my ex, his face goes blank with tiredness and smooths out. It probably helps to have Asian skin (so fewer wrinkles).


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:52 AM
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Cradle robbers, all of you.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 6:55 AM
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184: With the gendering thing, my secret personal belief that may undercut my argument about the books is that you get gendered based on super-subtle social stuff more than anything else. So people gender me male not because of my hair or clothes or in spite of being large-chested but because I do not stand, smile, take up space or inflect my speech in the ways a [heterosexual] woman is supposed to, and therefore I must be something else, and that means male. People think they're gendering me because of my hair or my shirt, but they're really gendering me because I am not good at expressing deference/apology/affirmation/smiliness in my stance, expression and tone of voice as women are supposed to.

I suppose that if Breq is traveling around, she isn't going to pick up on this either, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:05 AM
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I always look right at the chest, because I'm a feminist.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:13 AM
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People think they're gendering me because of my hair or my shirt, but they're really gendering me because I am not good at expressing deference/apology/affirmation/smiliness in my stance, expression and tone of voice as women are supposed to.

Hmm. So you reckon that, with long hair, and dressed as a (for want of a better word) typical woman, you'd get mistaken for a man just as often as you do now?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:32 AM
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AIMHMHB, I was disappointed by The City and the City.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:33 AM
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from that photo I can sort of see how that could happen

Yeah. ttaM has a receding hairline and his wife looks quite young (at least in that photo).


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:51 AM
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with long hair, and dressed as a (for want of a better word) typical woman, you'd get mistaken for a man just as often as you do now?

Also right! Frowner, with just a bit of work, you could totally graduate to ballbusting woman.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:53 AM
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re: 210

Yeah, I get people could see a 5 or even 10 year difference. But not 20, or more, surely?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:56 AM
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Perhaps they just imagined you as an intensely virile ten-year-old.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 7:58 AM
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Or maybe your wife used a fake id to get married.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:03 AM
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208: I have been mistaken for a trans woman when I had long hair and wore makeup, so there's that.

I think it would depend on how many signifiers are in play - at some point, I'd expect dress to override everything else.

But I have been mistaken for a man when I had long hair and dressed in a femmier manner (and was young and had beautiful skin, no less!) What has always surprised me about this is the whole breasts thing, because when people say that they can of course tell gender easily, they always say "but women have breasts, that's how you know", and while I make no actual claims about the quality of my chest, there's certainly a sufficiency. Also, I don't have craggy features. When I look at photos of myself with male friends, I can really see that I have a lot of what are usually considered feminine signifiers. I know women who do look really boyish, and if you saw a photo of them with a bunch of boyish looking guys, they would blend in, and that's really not me.

I think a lot of it is expression, stance, really subtle ways of interacting with men, etc. And some of it is "hm, this person clearly isn't dressing to attract men, that means that this person can't possibly be a woman".


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:11 AM
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I think part of it depends on the circles in which you move. For example, it would never occur to me to consider that a person I met is trans unless they said something or were wearing a tag reading "ask me about transsexuality" or something.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:19 AM
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214: Or a fake ttaM.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:20 AM
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Perhaps they just imagined you as an intensely virile ten-year-old.

And, until we saw that photo, didn't we all?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:23 AM
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I guess it occurs to me, but not as something I should act upon with out confirmation.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:41 AM
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The constitutional rights of others are very boring and involve shitty furniture.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 8:47 AM
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Anyway, I did fuckall and was released.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 10:04 AM
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People make apparently random mistakes about people's ages. AIMHMHB, on one occasion Mrs Y, being then in her mid-30s and looking it, with no grey in her hair, was minding her older sister's babies when some stranger asked her if she was their grandmother. I conclude that a lot of people are either completely unobservant, or nuts, or both.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 10:06 AM
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Or, as l usually put it, Thursday.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 10:06 AM
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222: Or have kids at 15.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 10:07 AM
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On the veldt, if you didn't assume that a thirty-year-old woman was a grandmother, you were implying she had poor resistance to parasites or funny looking kids.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 11:05 AM
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re: 222

Yes, you've mentioned it here before.

Although, fwiw, I have younger peers from school, who are grandparents, and my Mum was a grandmother at 39.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 11:37 AM
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186: And also Cherryh's Wave Without a Shore. She wrote several experimental novels I really like, but apparently Boy-Finds-Hands and diplomatic soap operas pay the rent. (I think she does those well too, but they aren't as rare.)

I can also second some of 215, being taken for a man specifically when I wasn't projecting submission. (Once by a lesbian who knew me, and while I had long hair that showed, which seems like a fair test.) For a while I could switch my gait in and out of this, which I did while walking through the iffier parts of town. Second fair test, I was then approached by chickenhawks rather than men looking for girls. ISIHMTHB.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 12:18 PM
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Wow. Responsibility averted.


Posted by: Gerald Ford | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 1:38 PM
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Oof, were you selected as a juror?


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 1:57 PM
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No. Just hanging around waiting.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 2:00 PM
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I was then approached by chickenhawks rather than men looking for girls.

Cheney tried to feed you falsified classified info about WMD?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 2:40 PM
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||

Here he goes:

So I picked the Osamu Dazai Joseitoand have read so far 10 pages of the 100 page novella...hey this is dense 1st person stream-of-conciousness art stuff. One of the interesting things is that Dazai was skintight with the Japanese high-lit crowd, writing to and for smart mostly men, and the point of the I-novel was a supposition that in order to be sincere and honest and interesting, literary fiction should be as close to description of autobiographical events and circumstances as possible. (See above comments about personal narratives, working up from jury duty thru chickenhawks and up) Dazai, being genius, was making a statement.

I'll come back to Dazai.

Was inspired by a movie, Schoolgirl Complex. Hey I don't seek out such movies, I look at annual best-tens and it was there. Of course the title has many meanings, referring to the common fetish, to a famous very very softcore photo book (think David Hamilton with their uniforms still on, (the movie opening credit sequence quotes images from the book); and a level saying "more complicated than your fantasies." The movie quotes extensively from Joseito as a major plot device is the schoolgirls giving a public reading of the book and practicing reading aloud. IOW, voice of young women. Otherwise the movie is remarkably dialogue-light, showing not telling.

Maybe the movie is acting against the fetish and objectification by letting young women speak for themselves?

Wait a minute. The script was written by a man, movie directed by a man, quoting extensively from a classic novella written by a man. Are there women's voices here? Does Frowner tell me it doesn't matter?

Question for the audience:Can a man watch representations of schoolgirls and have it not be partly eroticized?

(Men here, mostly fathers yell out of course not, never crosses my body, impossible my mind is pure...It's only you, hentai. Women agree, I know my man is pure and BobMc is a beast, uniquely corrupt and evil.)

It's kinda important to the statement Dazai was making, whether men always objectify and idealize women. He was speaking in the context of I-novels like Dancing Girl of Izu and Snow Country

It is also important to anime, Dazai and the two writers above are there at the creation of...moe.

Even the best representation will involve internal struggle and elicit protective feelings.

From Jameson:

For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication. Intoxication must first have heightened the excitability of the entire machine: no art results before that happens. All kinds of intoxication, however different their origin, have the power to do this; above all, the intoxication of sexual excitement, the oldest and most primitive form of intoxication. Likewise the intoxication which comes in the train of all great desires, all strong emotions; the intoxication of feasting, of contest, of the brave deed, of victory, of all extreme agitation; the intoxication of cruelty;intoxication in destruction; intoxication under certain meteorological influences, for example the intoxication of spring; or under the influence of narcotics; finally the intoxication of the will, the intoxication of an overloaded and distended will.--The essence of intoxication is the feeling of plenitude and increased energy. From out of this feeling one gives to things, one compels them to take, one rapes them--one calls this procedure idealizing N;Twilight of Idols

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 4:33 PM
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Oh, I should mention here that Jameson has been working for a while on the difference between affect and emotion; affect being of the body and unrepresentable and emotion of the mind, named, and artificial.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 4:37 PM
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And I think Laura Mulvey focused way too narrowly on visual images.

Dazai in Joseito 1st person stream of consciousness relatively bereft of description or external world, was interrogating the eroticization of invisible stuff, the idealization and objectification of women's internal states.

Which is the most important part of the gaze anyway.

Bye.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 8-15 5:07 PM
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226. But if your mother had been pushing her grandkids around in a buggy when she was 40, wouldn't most passers by have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that she was their mother?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 3:59 AM
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You can tell parents from grandparents pretty easily by the stress levels. Knowing that sooner or later you get to go home (or drop the kid at his home) gives a certain inner calm no matter how big of a shit the kid is.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 5:20 AM
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re: 235

Yeah, probably. She was a young looking 40, too. Although where I grew up, then, I think it was still more typical to have kids fairly young, and first time parents in their late 30s were not the norm, whereas that's more or less the norm for most people I know where I live now.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 5:32 AM
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236 also applies to aunts and uncles.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 5:54 AM
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Uncles bring porn and cigarettes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 5:56 AM
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||

Yet Another Online Harassment Post via LGM, of course

Linked cause:

I emerged from the path through the shrine's woods and, close by the station, found myself on the road with four or five laborers. As usual, these guys spat out some nasty and unmentionable phrases in my direction. I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I wanted to pass them, but to do so, I'd have to thread my way amongst them in order to slip by them. That was scary. On the other hand, if I just stood there without saying anything, and waited a good while to let the laborers get far enough ahead of me, that would take much more guts. It would be rude, and they might get angry. My body grew hot, I felt like I was about to cry. I was ashamed to be on the verge of tears, so I turned and laughed in the direction of the guys. Then, slowly, I started walking after them. That might have been the end of it but, even after I was on the train, my chagrin had not dissipated. I wished I would hurry up and grow stronger and purer so that such a trifling matter would no longer afflict me.
Osamu Dazai, Schoolgirl, 1939

Finished the book, but it was a chore. Maybe I have read too many 1st person monologues on the Net over the last decades, maybe something else, but this just upsets me.

God knows there are feelings in anime, but they don't go on for fucking hours.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 2:21 PM
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Just a question, since Akerman is getting a lot of words:

What would Jeanne Dielman read like, what effect would it have as a novel? Robbe-Grillet style wouldn't even work. Fact is, you couldn't retain the ambiguity, the slow revelation in a first person narrative.

Somebody was sorry I had lost the imagination to read prose fiction. No, the problem is that prose fiction wants me to be subsumed in somebody else's imaginary, and a social, communal, and conventional imaginary.

Images just sit there, waiting to be apprehended. Words, every speech act is a demand, an aggressive appropriation of attention-space, ignored at a cost of the self-censure of antisocial attitude.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 10- 9-15 2:52 PM
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52: If I sat next to humanized mice, I'd be afraid to fall asleep at my desk too, Frowner.


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 10-11-15 5:19 PM
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