Friday Hoyden: Y.T.

This is a repost: first published April 5, 2006 as Best. Hoyden. Evah. (before I’d got into the Friday Hoyden habit). I’m not sure I’d still call her best evah, but she definitely remains a SIKAW.

Best. Hoyden. Evah.

a painting of a young person of indeterminate gender holding a skateboard in front of a garishly neon-lit street sceneY.T.

Skate-Kourier thrasher teen superbus.

(The following book report is ending-spoiler-free.)

Quite a few people told me I should read Snowcrash because I love science fiction. Why did none of them tell me I should also read it because one of the main protagonists is a fabulous hoyden, in and out of thrilling adventures and sticky situations, who saves herself and her mates as often as they save her and doesn’t spend the entire novel angsting about boyfriends?

I haven’t read all that much cyberpunk because it has a genre image that is even more masculinist than most other ‘hard’ SF, so having read a few Gibsons and thought “interesting, but such a boyspace” this is the first Neal Stephenson book I’ve read, and it was published in 1992. ’92! I could have had this character running around in my head for more than a decade if one, just one, of the male SF geeks who has intermittently encouraged me to read this book over the years had mentioned just a little bit about Y.T. in their litanies of praise for the novel.

But they always told me about Hiro and the Metaverse. And Rat-Things. And maybe Uncle Enzo. All cool, no doubt about it (I’m a little bit in love with Uncle Enzo, actually), fascinating tech-spec stuff. I’ll have to reread it again in quite short order to get my head around all that better. Not one of them mentioned Y.T., let alone Juanita as the crucial-ally-hacker whose facial-expression-mimicking software was what made the Metaverse more than just a wankfest game!

You. Bastards.

Guys? Feminists and geekgirls dig female characters who don’t just want a boyfriend, ‘kay? Just like hacker-Hiros with swords have other goals than girlfriends, and sometimes have more urgent priorities than sex even, because there are cyberdragons to slay and geekprizes to be won, and that’s why you cyberpunk-guy-fans love him.

That’s the same way most women SF readers feel about Strong Intelligent Kick-Arse Women (SIKAWs). If you want a woman you know and like to read a book you have enjoyed, tell her about the SIKAWomen in the book. They don’t have to be bitchy ballbreakers, just SIKAWs who overcome external obstacles as well as the internal fears and anxieties, and who aren’t just a prize for the hero to win. You wish she would read the Vorkosigan series? Tell her about Cordelia, Elena and Ekaterin, not just Miles. The Night’s Dawn trilogy? Ione Saldana, Louise Kavanagh, Mama Skibbow, Syrinx, Alkad Mzu – take your pick.

SF books, particularly the ‘hard’ SF and cyberpunk subgenres, are full of male protagonists for geekboys to imagine being – hardarse action heroes, brilliant hackers, charismatic leaders. It can be hard for female fans to find female protagonists who can give us the same rush, so if you read a book with a SIKAW, don’t flick over her the way we femfans sometimes flick over yet another boyzone buttkicker as we read SF – make a note of her and tell a geekgirl! Then you might just develop a shared interest in the author’s work, and from there, who knows?

It’s an ungenderbalanced fanworld out there – as any SF convention will show. But you geekboys don’t do yourselves any favours in keeping the interest of the femfans. They won’t share your SF-space if they don’t know about and fall for the SIKAW characters. There are so many guys using Hiro Protagonist as their username, so much fanart out there about Hiro. You know how many images of Y.T. are out there? Perhaps my google-fu is weak, but this one above is the only one I could find [editor note: the situation has improved since 2006]. I’m very relieved that I like it.


Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies

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7 replies

  1. Ha!
    A friend of mine was reading this just last week, he suggested that I might like it but didn’t mention the SIKAW. Will definitely borrow from library now (and send friend link to this post).

    • Neal Stephenson builds some great worlds and writes some fascinating characters. Word of warning though: I’ve never been entirely happy with the ending of one of his books yet. They’re still worth reading though, IMO. Lots to enjoy munching on before the end looms.

  2. Dammit, you have totally just inspired me to re-read Snowcrash. But can I hold back until the Christmas break when I have serious book-reading-times planned???

  3. YT!!! Tigtog, you rock. She totally stole that book from Hiro. And Juanita – evoked Rosalind Franklin for me. I’ve tried appropriating YT a few times, but i can’t quite get it, the closest i got was with a couple of mountain biking agave rustlers in Melbourne, ended up more Buffy than YT.
    I’m with you on the endings of Stephenson, except for Anathem, and then his style works for the conceit that he is using, i think, if i understood the book right.

  4. Word of warning though: I’ve never been entirely happy with the ending of one of his books yet. They’re still worth reading though, IMO. Lots to enjoy munching on before the end looms.

    I also think, especially in Cryptonomicon and later, that the emphasis on how hot the Juanita-style characters (pretty-feisty-fearsome-clever-iconoclastic, usually but not always hackers or mathematicians) are gets out of control. I like America Shaftoe of Cryptonomicon (perhaps partly because like Y.T. and unlike Juanita she actually is not a hacker or mathematician), but Eliza was a big reason I gave up on Quicksilver.
    Returning to Y.T. there are a lot of things I like about her and her characterisation. For example, she’s a casually sexually active teenager, and her “purity” (restoring it, mourning it, thinking about it) is of importance to exactly no one. And her teen-style universal contempt for the adult world and its challenges is thoroughly supported by the plot. These shouldn’t be hugely of note, but they are.

  5. Diamond Age. Nell.

  6. Have you read Diamond Age yet? Several cool female protagonists in that one, too!

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