Recently Ruth Jordan offered one of the most insightful commentaries on the topic of how men and women view sex and violence. Despite her wise words there were those who continued to maintain that Rankin was attacking lesbians when interviewed last month for the Independent on Sunday. This is evidenced in the comment trail, specifically this remark: “I think that the upsetting part of his comment was that the women who write so much violence are lesbians…. it's also a hurtful thing for Rankin to have said. Lesbians have taken enough knocks without this one.”
Yesterday the reporter who interviewed Rankin and elicited the comment that caused the uproar, and international bestselling author and lesbian Val McDermid, were on radio discussing the topic. You should listen for yourself.
Back to the comment that started it all: Any time you see narration inserted in an interview you should be wary. When the interviewer inserts narration they’re interpreting the piece and can misconstrue the meaning.
I didn’t respond to the question addressed to me in the comments on Ruth’s article because I hadn’t seen it until yesterday, although I do fail to see the point. I’ve said my piece here and elsewhere. Whenever you read something in the paper you should keep an open mind. I have sat in classes where I was taught to write scandal pieces. We were actually taught political manipulation by inserting narration into politician profiles. Let me show you an example from an interview I did.
Sandra: Do you find it harder to write women?
Simon: Because I’m not one? I don’t know. It’s harder. It is harder. I like women. I like women’s company, but I think if you ask a lot of male writers, most find it harder. Just because they’re not one, really.
Sandra: But then look at how many women write men.
Simon: I think women understand men much, much better than men understand women, in real life, in general. They’re more cunning and manipulative. You notice it when you see children. The boys are more easily led and a little bit more upfront. What you see is what you get. With the women, from a very young age, they’re cleverer and they seem to understand which buttons to press with men. So I think they just know a bit more about men then perhaps we know about them, so that’s why they can do it.
Sandra: So you experience that with your girls?
Sandra: They know which buttons to push?
Simon: They certainly do. From a very young age. My three-year-old, she was like that when she was two, and my older one was like that very young. They learn very young. They’re much more intelligent, at an early age, than boys. It evens out, but at a young age they mature much quicker. You can really spot it, because my brother’s got three boys. You see the difference and it’s quite amazing.
That’s how this portion of the interview appears in the fall Spinetingler. Now try this version of the one paragraph on for size:
“Women understand men much, much better than men understand women,” Simon said as his eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted with distaste. “They’re more cunning and manipulative.”
All of a sudden this statement could be taken as being anti-woman. Now I was sitting right there. This is absolutely not what Simon meant. I’ve worked with children – I completely agree that in general, you see notable differences in boys and girls from a young age. In fact, this is an example of where Simon and I both checked it over to make certain there would be no misunderstandings. I was curious about why his books tend to be dominated by male characters. There’s nothing wrong with him writing about more men than women. I write about more men than women. There’s also nothing wrong with my curiosity. And there’s nothing wrong with what he said in the interview, which if you click on the link you can read in full.
But the insertion of narration could have changed the meaning and if I was an unscrupulous person with an agenda I could have done the same thing that reporter did to Ian Rankin – stirred up controversy to use someone else’s name to elevate my own. It leaves me wondering, again, why so many people – people who are writers, who use words for a living, who are reasonable and intelligent, people who went and commented on Ruth’s post and elsewhere – couldn’t see that.
Could it be that some people felt automatically defensive about the whole subject? Could it be that some people are just jealous of Ian Rankin and will take any opportunity to bash him mercilessly? Could it be that some people just like to jump on bandwagons and support causes, and since beating on Rankin and accusing him of making anti-lesbian statements was the hobby of the day they went with it without even stopping to think?
And any of you who think I’m just defending Ian Rankin here because it’s Ian Rankin, remember there will be a lot of people who will show private support and in public say nothing and leave you hanging. I’ll tell you right out I had no intention of getting involved initially in the ITW scandal last summer. It seemed pointless from the moment I first read about the sexism allegations on Sarah Weinman’s blog, but one of my friends, Jason Pinter, asked that I take a look at the comments. Then I couldn’t stay silent. Things were being asserted that were against people I know – judges like Anne Frasier and Elaine Flinn, and people who’d defended the ITW, like Jason Pinter. It was one thing when it was a controversial subject. Once I read the remarks it went further, to personal attacks on people. I wasn’t willing to let that go. I won’t stand by silently while friends are falsely accused or mistreated. It may be true that the same courtesy is not always afforded to me by others but that doesn’t change who I am and what my principles are. I’m disappointed when my friends don’t have my back: I defend my friends. It’s as simple as ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ and when a friend is falsely accused, I’m not going to just turn a blind eye if I know about it.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been times I haven’t jumped to conclusions and been shown to be wrong, but when that happens I own it, which isn’t something I’ve seen people do over this topic. Ian has been judged, guilty until proven innocent, and considering the artistic community is usually pretty liberal this is a surprisingly narrow-minded reaction.
Here’s what we don’t know from the interview with Ian. We don’t know what the reporter left in and what she cut out.
Here’s what we do know. Ian refused to elaborate on the topic on the record. That means he did not fully divulge his thoughts on the topic. Therefore, for anyone to think that from that one statement they could completely understand what he meant and what he believed is ridiculous. It would be like pulling this one statement:
Sandra Ruttan said in her blog post Friday November 24, 2006, “There is a disproportionate number of lesbians writing crime fiction.”
and using that as the summary of what I’m talking about here today. One statement pulled out of the context of the whole changes the meaning.
Here’s what I know about Ian. He’s not anti-lesbian. He’s not homophobic. He’s not anti-women. Some of his best friends in the business are lesbians. He’s a good person and didn’t deserve to be dragged into this.
Here’s what I know about the reporter.
1. I hadn’t heard of her before this interview with Ian.
2. She’s a freelancer. This means she needs to stay in demand to earn her living.
3. She took this comment from the interview and wrote about it on her blog.
4. She was invited on radio with Val McDermid to discuss these assertions.
5. She admitted on radio that she had a specific purpose in mind when she chose to include these points from her interview.
She inserted narrative stating that this is one of the great unspoken truths in crime fiction, which in the context infers that this is a widespread belief, but has given us no names or evidence to even support that anyone else has ever made this comment to her. That is not the same as quoting a source that doesn’t want to be identified. She’s using inference to strengthen her assertions, and using her inserted narration to influence what people interpret from the alleged quote in the interview.
I recently interviewed Mark Billingham. He said something I was really interested in pursuing in an article in Spinetingler, but later withdrew the comment. Now, by all typical standards I interviewed him, I have it on tape, I can back up that he said it.
I’m not going to print that comment.
Why? It’s simple. For one thing, there was a greater context involved. What it was doesn’t matter. It was of interest to me, but the manner in which he mentioned this item was as one friend talking to another, not so much subject answering interviewer. I have to have the ethics to understand that.
We all have to have the ability to understand when someone tells us something we need to keep quiet about, and when it’s okay to share.
Not one person I’ve interviewed has let the interview stand exactly as transcribed. Each one has asked to remove at least one line, where they either repeated themselves or where their words came out wrong, and ended up inferring something they didn’t mean.
I go for the overall truth of the interview. That means that if there’s something in there that could be misinterpreted I suggest it be cut out. I did that with Simon – I emailed him and told him I thought we should remove one section. He agreed.
Now, if you actually go and listen to the audio discussion about this you can hear what the journalist actually said, about the fact that many other authors have mentioned this to her, always off the record, and that this was why she chose to bring this up and leave it in – because nobody will talk about it.
You know what I believe? I believe she baited Ian in such a way that she had something she could twist and that she used his name as leverage because he’s internationally known. I believe if it had been any of dozens of other authors – my friend Steve Mosby, or John McFetridge or Sandra Ruttan, for example – the issue wouldn’t even have been raised.
Picture the scenario. Ian sits down for an interview. Partway in, the interviewer asks, “Why do you think it is that there are so many lesbians writing extremely graphic, violent crime fiction?”
“I won’t go on the record and say that the people writing the most graphic violence today are women. That isn’t something I’ll tell you, or that they’re mostly lesbians as well.”
“I won’t go on the record and say that the people writing the most graphic violence today are women. That isn’t something I’ll tell you, or that they’re mostly lesbians as well.”
You see, editing quotes in newspaper articles is standard practice. It’s something people do with reviews, cutting out tiny excerpts to make it look like they’ve gotten an exceptionally positive assessment of their work, when in fact the overall review was negative. A recent story was told on DorothyL about someone getting a review that said something to the effect, “It’s a waste of money. Don’t buy this book.” The excerpted portion used as a blurb? “Buy this book.”
This is a common occurrence. All of us know it’s done. Anyone- anyone- who’s been interviewed has dealt with the possibility of being misquoted or an inference put into their words that wasn’t meant.
And if you think I’m reaching for an excuse here, think again. This was the quote as it appeared on the reporter’s blog and in the interview: “The people writing the most graphic violence today are women," he says when I ask what he thinks of them. "If you turn that off," he looks nervously at my tape recorder, but continues regardless, going public about one of the great unsaids among crime writers, "I will tell you that they are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting."
You can already see that one thing Ian was quoted as saying was cut right out during the Woman’s Hour version. Which begs the question: what else did they cut out that we don’t know about?
Now, I’m only prepared to say this much more specifically on Ian’s situation. Anyone who’s a friend, anyone who would not want to have their name used as part of a journalist’s crusade would give him the benefit of the doubt. They’d afford him the courtesy of not jumping to conclusions and at least trying to keep an open mind, that just maybe there’s an explanation that would change how they see the situation.
This is what I actually believe on the subject. There is the appearance that there is a disproportionate number of lesbians writing crime fiction. By disproportionate I mean out of sync with the standard averages in society. I am a bit obtuse where orientation is concerned, but I can say that in the village of 800+ I live in, I’m only aware of 4 lesbians. I don’t know if there is anyone living in town who is gay. I’m not a good judge. I had a horrid crush on a guy years ago who happens to be gay.
If you look at my bookshelves you’ll find a hefty chunk of fiction by the likes of Val McDermid, Natasha Cooper, John Morgan Wilson, Timothy Findley, Alex Brett, Anthony Bidulka… I have to honestly say I’ve heard it suggested that others on my shelves are lesbians but really don’t have a clue. I really don’t. Because it doesn’t make any difference to whether I’ll read their book or not. This is a question I don’t even ask myself about the author. I don’t find it necessary to introduce myself as Sandra Ruttan, straight. It isn’t usually the first point of curiosity I have about a person.
Here’s a thought, and it’s just a thought. Perhaps there appears to be a disproportionate number of lesbians breaking ground with violence in crime fiction because lesbians have already addressed the issue of defying the mainstream. I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m saying that it’s a reality that people still have to ‘come out of the closet’. You are presumed straight until you say you’re gay. Why is that? Only because the mentality in our culture still perceives being gay or lesbian as an ‘alternate’ lifestyle, and no matter how politically correct the words and labels are, it boils down to the same thing: Different.
What’s relevant is that because people who are gay have already dealt with ‘coming out’ maybe they’re more willing to cross other boundaries, like the idea that woman shouldn’t be violent. We still do have this perception based on gender roles, and people do get rankled a bit when women are violent or write about violence. So, perhaps because lesbians have already dealt with breaking out of one ‘box’ there are a higher percentage of lesbians willing to tackle another taboo area.
I don’t think the issue is that there are more women writing violent crime fiction today. I think the issue is that nobody has the statistics. What percentage of teachers are lesbians? What percentage of musicians are gay? What percentage of bankers or politicians or journalists are gay?
And what percentage of crime fiction authors are gay?
You see, that’s the fact that’s relevant. Everyone can say they absolutely don’t believe, or do believe, that there are more lesbian authors writing graphic crime fiction, but nobody has numbers. Until then it’s all just opinions and assertions.
I honestly think that there is a perception, a feeling, belief, that there is a higher percentage of lesbians publishing crime fiction than say working as accountants. It may or may not be true. I honestly think that the reason people have those perceptions is because those who are gay have already dealt with disclosing their orientation and are more vocal about their status. It isn’t that there are necessarily more people who are gay, it’s just that we know about the fact that they’re gay.
Appearances can be deceiving. Do I honestly care if a book is written by a homophobic man, a straight woman, a gay man or a lesbian? To be honest, the only one who gives me a moment’s pause is the homophobic man, because if there’s one thing I’ll refuse to read it’s something that seems to support prejudices. So if someone wrote a book and used it as their soap box to slam homosexuals I’d never read them again. Same if they used it to slam Jews or Asians or Arabs or anyone else.
It certainly does seem, if you look at the bestseller lists, that women who write about graphic violence are doing better sales-wise than women who don’t. Val McDermid. Mo Hayder. Karin Slaughter. Patricia Cornwell. And of those four names, I know two are lesbians. I know one is straight. I don’t know about Karin, because it has no bearing on anything to me. But let’s go with 50% from that short list – that does seem to be higher than the average. I mean, I don’t think 50% of woman are lesbians.
But what do I know? Maybe they are.
I don’t think anyone wants to discuss the math, because I don’t think anyone is actually interested in the facts here. There are some who may - may - just be interested in stirring up controversy. There are some who, again, may feel threatened because they’re homophobic. There are some who may just be curious to see if there are trends. I’m a writer. By nature, I’m a curious person. I wonder about all sorts of things and ask questions that might not be politically correct. It’s just curiosity.
Do we see more women engineers today than 30 years ago? Do we see more female police officers, doctors, pilots? I believe we do. And as a result, we’ll also see more lesbian engineers, police officers, doctors, etc.
To me, it’s fascinating to look at the trends in society. Maybe… maybe lesbians are breaking new ground in fiction because they understand what it is to face persecution, alienation, animosity and so they’re writing about things I don’t have the same experiences with as a straight woman. Maybe that sells because it’s heartfelt writing and it appeals to people.
Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that more women are proving themselves in the crime fiction genre ranks, and as a result, more lesbians are proving themselves as well.
Now, I don’t know if part of what has spurred alleged whispered commentary on lesbians in the crime writing community is jealousy. Since none of those people who allegedly made statements have been identified I can’t ask, or really speculate based on any knowledge.
What I will say is this. I’m a woman. I’m heterosexual. I write violence when I believe it’s warranted within the scope of the story I’m telling. I don’t like graphic violence and I don’t write violence just for the sake of shocking people. I have never considered marketability of my work when choosing to include violence.
Like I said here Wednesday: “There is nothing to be feared in asking healthy questions, other than addressing them to a person who shuts their eyes and closes their ears and refuses to consider that things could be any different than the way they see it.”
Here’s what I believe: There are times when silence is the same as a lie. That means sometimes, while others are playing their PC kiss-ass games, I might be the one who will speak out about something. I’ve had a couple people back out of interviews because of my directness online. I don’t worry about that.
I worry more about being so pressured by others and their expectations that I’m afraid to say what I honestly think, in case it’s not ‘popular’. It doesn’t matter to me if the trend of the day is to mock Ian Rankin. I’m not going to do that just to fit in. And I’m not even going to shut my mouth and ignore it.
There are several things about this entire mess that bother me. One misconstrued comment in an interview has meant Ian has born the brunt for all of those alleged people who allegedly made statements to this reporter.
I respect Val McDermid’s concerns over what might be prompting people to whisper about this topic. However, as she said herself, Ian is a good friend of hers and danced at her wedding, and is not homophobic. Without knowing who it was this reporter allegedly spoke to about this subject there’s no way to figure out what the reason for the comments was. And what this has done instead is ensured that people will stay silent on the issue and avoid going on the record about the topic. The actions of this reporter have not exposed any great unspoken truth (as she alleged in her interview with Ian) or done anything to change public perception or any prejudices anyone might have. They’ve just ensured that people won’t talk about this.
I worry about the willingness of people to rush to judge Ian. It tells me that if this ever happens to me in an interview I’ll be tried and convicted without even having a chance to answer for myself.
I worry about people selling out on their honest views for fear that it will hurt their sales. This is now the topic nobody can talk about. And I just find it interesting. Not the lesbian aspect of it, but the idea that women are writing more violent stuff, in general, than men. If you look on my bookshelves you can argue for that point of view. There is no book I’ve finished that I found more disturbing than Wire in the Blood. I abandoned Mo Hayder’s Birdman because I felt it was gratuitous.
Go back to Ruth’s article, about how men and women deal with violence. Think about what she says.
I worry that this assault, which has been twisted into an attack on Ian, may hurt his sales and his reputation. Think that’s silly? Think on this. Michael Richards had a racist tirade just when Seinfeld season 7 came out on DVD, and there are people already commenting that they won’t buy it now because they didn’t like his behaviour. Kevin and I were talking about this just last night.
Earlier this week someone hit my blog googling Rankin lesbian violence crime. You know what that tells me?
This issue has become so tied to Ian that people are still reading about it, still discussing it, and still associating it with him when in reality it should be associated with that reporter, who admitted in the radio broadcast yesterday that she had an agenda behind including the comment.
So this crusade has accomplished nothing, other than hurting someone who was baited in an interview in all probability because he has such a known name that it could be used to get extra mileage out of the topic.
And you know what? Ian Rankin is not only someone who has had an enormous influence on my writing career. He’s someone I’ve corresponded with, someone I have a lot of respect and admiration for, and I’ve been a guest at his house. Seeing him used this way offends the hell out of me.