I've been following the thoughtful posts and commentary following Niall Harrison's article in Strange Horizons on the various inequalities women writers endure in genre fiction from  Juliet McKenna, Kari Sperring  and Aliette de Bodard,  It's all interesting, puzzling, irritating, and necessary to know and try to understand.  It's made me wonder what do those statistics actually mean beyond the obvious, and what is the impact on sales?  I think it's pretty safe to say there will be a big impact on these female writer's careers - reviews are important for reputation and word of mouth.

One thing Aliette wrote about was "the pervasive notion that the things men do are Important; and the things women do are not" and it brought me up cold because it reminded me about a BBC report  I read recently about the fighting in Libya.    The full article is here but it's quite long so to avoid wading here's the salient bit:-

" An old woman, in her late 70s at least, I'm told, entered the bank (in Tripoli) to collect her 500 Libyan dollars ($410; £253) in state aid announced a couple of weeks ago. There were two long queues - one for men and one for women. She stood in the men's queue.

The men urged her to move to the women's section. "Why?" she challenged.

A man told her: "Ya haja [a term of respect for an elderly woman] this line is for men, women is the other one".

She loudly replied: "No. All the men are in Benghazi."

Whether or not this particular event really happened it's powerful stuff, it means something and it resonates deep inside.  There's a bit of me that cheered her on, another bit that appreciated the sanguine humour, the acidity of her attitude and the resultant humiliation of the men.  

So, I laughed a painful laugh, she was putting the men in their place, calling them out.   This is exactly the kind of real-world moment that would transpose almost unchanged into fiction.  It's powerful stuff, it means something.  After a while I started to wonder what IS that exactly? 

Layers on layers.

She didn't call the women out.  Why was that, exactly?  Why do I feel that would not work in any culture anywhere in the world?
Why is it inconceivable for a man to stand in the woman's queue and say the equivalent thing and get the same effect?

Swings and roundabouts.

I think there is something very deep-rooted going on here, under personal attitudes, under culture, possibly all the way down to instinct and reflex.  In times of trouble, in times of chaos, men form themselves into bands and women do not.  Why is that?  In terms of physicality and biological role it's obvious, but like so many 'natural' things like infant mortality, disease and hunger we have overcome them. 

Rational intellect is perhaps our greatest ability because that is what helps us transcend our natural heritage - not ignore it or trample it, but accept it, and then make a decision to do, or be, something else.   We need to do things for each other, do new things, stop doing others, give things up and start doing others.  This includes the need to give up the idea that death in one group of people is somehow more or less shocking than another irrespective of when or how that happens, accidental or otherwise, whether they pick up a gun or blow themselves up on a bus.  And that it is in certain circumstances it is the duty of part of the population to put themselves in harm's way whether they like it or not.

I wonder do we really not want that?  Or is it a case that we cannot help think these things about each other?  How do we ever get real equality if this is the layer upon which everything else floats?

So, does all this mean I'd never use an encounter like that in my writing?  Are you joking?  It's powerful stuff.  It means something. 

It resonates deep inside.