Haven’t had a chance to read all the abusive words thrown at Andrew Smith that caused him to shut down both his twitter and facebook accounts. I did have the chance to read the VICE interview and saw what he had said (as published by VICE) and simply couldn’t fathom how an honest, although tongue-in-cheek, and quite humble remark such as, “I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though” would have been the cause of so much personal attack and pain. I read couple of responses that more or less match what I think: Andrew Smith is a brilliant author who deals with issues in his books mostly through male perspectives: raw, honest, frequently biased or myopic (because it IS raw and honest) — and is obviously aware of the criticism that he’s not fleshing out his female characters as much as his readers would have liked. I’m trying to make sense of all this… I have not read Alex Crow — but I did read 100 Sideway Miles and found Julia to be independent, mature, and an incredibly strong and positive influence over Finn — an entirely different female character from Shann in Grasshopper Jungle. I need to do a lot more digging to figure out why the outcry and also whether I find it justifiable to condemn a human being and his character simply by the characters they put in books and also by some sentences in an interview that, to me, seem to be interpreted to carry very different meanings than intended.
Here are links to the original interview and some responses:
The original interview:
An interpretation that states Andrew Smith, by saying (tongue-in-cheekly) that he’s ignorant of how women function, Andrew Smith is admitting that he considers women “LESS THAN HUMAN.” I can easily, by the same ignoring-all-logic-or-facts method used by Tessa Gratton here, claim that he is considering women “MORE THAN HUMAN” and thus harder to grasp and he’s trying to do a better job at learning how to WRITE THEM as characters. Sorry. Grrr…. :
A well-argued essay in response to the twitter witch hunt and Gratton’s attack
A long list of thoughts that present many ideas that I think about what Andrew Smith had said:
8 responses to “Haven’t had a chance to read all the…”
I agree with you. The words were taken out of context and blown up into something they weren’t. But I wouldn’t have closed down my social media accounts. I’d have ridden the wave until the shouting stopped.
But we are not Andrew. We don’t know how he might react to this kind of personal attacks. I know that he cares about his craft, and I imagine that he didn’t publish books to be demonized by fellow authors. By now I have read more “follow-up” comments or blog posts that start with, “I have never read a book by Andrew Smith…” And we need to respect that he needs to not see the negative comments.
Just came across this. http://bookriot.com/2015/03/12/women-arent-aliens-thoughts-andrew-smith-controversy/ The vitriol in the comments (esp from the moderators) is mindboggling. (You will see Walter Mayes trying and failing as well as Sarah from the readingzone)
I don’t want to register there to comment, so putting mine here: I want to clarify that the interviewer of that article starts with an inaccurate assessment that Andrew Smith does not write good female characters. Whether Andrew defended himself during the interview, we cannot know because he did not write the transcript — the interviewer had the power and discretion to include or exclude whatever was exchanged. However, based on THIS assessment, people who have not read most of Andrew Smith’s books must be under the impression that this author really doesn’t know anything about women. Thus, the tongue-in-cheek statement is taken as having a demeaning undertone, when all he wanted to say is that he’s a man, he has not lived in a woman’s shoes, and he is trying to learn how to create better female characters. I am not sure what else we should ask of him. What if Andrew Smith answered, “I already created really good female characters. I understand them because they are just like men, and I don’t have to try to understand them further”? I imagine that the outcry would have been the same or even more severe — because, the truth is: Tessa Gratton was not interested in what Andrew actually said or meant, but to seize an opportunity and twist his words to make a point. I do not think her point is all wrong — actually it is important to understand that micro aggression against women needs to be pointed out. However, as I said, we could also have easily interpreted his answer in a very positive way.
I am one who found his tone to be rather too dismissive. Having reread the interview since, I can see that he probably didn’t mean to come across as dismissive as I interpreted, but at the time, bringing my own experiences to what I was reading, I was very irritated. (And to be clear, I agree they could be interpreted more positively, but I still find them problematic.) I bounced pretty hard off the one novel of his I attempted to read because of the female characterization. His books just don’t appeal to me so I read other things. No harm, no foul. (And I can’t use them with the kids I work with anyway.) But I have seen numerous people who have tried to critique his female characterization repeatedly shot down by people telling them either they don’t know what they’re talking about or that it doesn’t matter because he gets the boys so well and he’s creative. One man should not be made the target for a systemic problem and discussion that needs to be had, but his words can certainly be used in that discussion. I also think we have a real problem with the cult of celebrity that needs to be addressed. There are some authors we seem to be unable to touch with much criticism without getting our heads chopped off. He’s one of them. And frankly that’s a big reason why I don’t want to read any more of his books even to see. I’m afraid to admit that I don’t like them.
I will also say that I did not see any abusive words thrown at him. I saw a lot of discussion about the differences in how male and female writers are treated as regards to flaws in their work. I saw a lot of talk about how frustrating it is to have women othered like that. (Even if that wasn’t his intent, that’s how a lot of women interpreted it, and, again, can be discussed rationally.) Now I did see a lot of passive aggressive snark. Some of that made me laugh, but no, it is not highly conducive to further discussion. But if we’re going to start calling passive aggressive snark “attacking” and “bullying”, then we all need to just evacuate social media immediately. Honestly, I was confused that he shut down his social media because I didn’t see anyone even engaging with him directly, just discussing. (I don’t use Facebook for book world stuff though so have no clue what happened there.) Obviously I don’t approve of personal attacks, threats, or abuse, People who engage in those things should be called out for them. But people using his words to discuss issues, is not that.
I want to be able to have a discussion in the community about the different way people interpreted his words and why that happened. I want to discuss the underlying problems. I’m disheartened that this became something that will probably stop that from happening. Again. Because now we all have to choose sides and refuse to budge from our positions or attempt listen and understand.
And hi! I came over here from Battle of the Books because I don’t want to discuss this there. Hope you don’t mind. :)
Love it that you come over here to discuss. And I am in agreement with much of what you said. I don’t believe that he is Untouchable: his female characters in Grasshopper Jungle should be discussed, especially with young people. And I can’t imagine him dismissing actual discussions over his literary creations based on textual evidences by people who have actually read the book. However I find it definitely problematic when people start taking things out of context and criticizing him as a person or a writer without ever reading his books: to me that is symptomatic of a world relying too heavily on sound bites and snappy knee jerk reactions. It is definitely fine to express one’s (often valuable and valid) opinions via social media, but once again it becomes problematic when there is little evidence or validity in the “source materials” some people base their responses upon. To those people, I still insist: Say what you want to say about female characters in books and how they should be improved but don’t accuse an author of doing a poor job at it because you (the royal you) have read about someone else’s complaints.
Oh, I agree with most of this. Personal attacks are never okay, and if you don’t know all the source material you should probably not make sweeping statements. Not being as familiar with his books, my irritated reaction was more due to the inherent system behind his word. His words weren’t overtly insulting to me, but the ideas behind them were. I don’t know if you saw Phoebe North’s response. It was basically my response too. Link if you haven’t seen it: http://phoebenorthauthor.tumblr.com/post/113371705400/on-the-flip-side-it-sometimes-seems-like-there
Here’s the problem with this. If an author says that he doesn’t write through female perspectives because he doesn’t understand them enough to portray them realistically, people get offended. If he writes from female perspectives even though he doesn’t understand them enough to portray them realistically, people get offended. He can’t win