Monday, 2 September 2013

InEqual Rites

I haven't posted in ages, partly because I've been pretty busy with work & life, and partly because I just haven't been running as much recently. But I recently was sent a link to the new cover for a book that is really precious to me - Terry Pratchett's third book in the Discworld series - Equal Rites. There are a number of reasons I feel strongly about this book; firstly, my Dad gave it to me when I was around 7 or so. As those who know me personally will know, I was tremendously close to my dad before he died in 2009. He was an amazing feminist and believed that girls should not be limited in what they do, so it was with great excitement that he gave me this book, about a small girl - Esk - accidentally becoming a sourcerer, in a world of magic populated almost exclusively by men. She is ostracised by this world, and brought up by a witch: Granny Weatherwax, in possibly (?) the first appearance by this most enduring of Discworld characters. Secondly, my copy is signed by Pratchett himself, and in it his has inscribed "To Angharad, Rite On!". I cannot overstate what a massive Pratchett fan I was and always will be, and so you can imagine the positive effect that this had on me. I have tried, quietly and stubbornly, throughout my life, not to get sucked in to the idea that as a girl and them woman, I must do this, look like this, talk about that, react in such-and-such a way. I have a physics degree, and I'm doing an engineering PhD. I don't believe I should have to wear a full face of make-up every time I leave the house. I am rarely intimidated by men just because they are men. I don't buy into the lessons sold us by society that women should be seen and not heard, that they are the ones who take care of the children and do the cooking. To be frank, most of it is utter bullcr*p, and not conducive to equality.

I hold these views, and so strongly, because my parents brought me up this way, and gave me strong female role models to live up to. Esk is one of these. So you can imagine my dismay at seeing the new artwork for the book, and discovering that Esk and Granny W - the two female main characters in a book called Equal Rites - have been removed from the cover. I tweeted the publishers, Transworld Books (@TransworldBooks), and their parent company Random House (@RandomHouseUK) to ask for clarification, but got no response. So today I emailed Transworld with the email below. If you feel anything about this at all, even if you are not a Discworld fan, or a massive Discworld fan who doesn't consider themselves a feminist, I would love it if you could get in contact with them as well, at least to let them know that such a cynical step has not gone unnoticed. Thanks for reading - and if you have never read this book, I highly recommend it!

Following discussions on Facebook, it has been pointed out to me that they are still there, just on the back cover, underneath the blurb. Picture kindly put together here. My feeling is similar, but slightly less gall-inducingly stunned. I'd be interested to hear of other books where the two characters that are the main focus of the book appear on the back cover, rather than the front, whilst secondary characters take up the front cover. I can't even remember their names! I shall reread my much-loved copy asap.

"Dear Sir/Madam, 

I am contacting your about the new artwork for the third book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. As you may know, this book is about a small girl (Esk) who unwittingly becomes a sourcerer, is ostracised from the magic community on account of her sex, and is brought up and trained by a witch (Granny Weatherwax - one of Discworld's most enduring characters). This was the first Discworld novel I ever read, when my father gave it to me when I was aged around 7, and is still my absolute favourite. My copy is, in fact, signed by Sir Pratchett himself, with the inscription "Rite On!". This book is so special to me, as it was inspirational in my path in life. I have pursued goals which are not traditional for women, including a physics degree and an engineering PhD. This was made partly possible by the strong female roles I've been exposed to throughout my life, including Esk. 

So it is with concern that I note that both Esk and Granny Weatherwax - the two main characters - have apparently been removed from the new cover of Equal Rites. There is a ridiculous disparity in the visible presence of men & women in much of the media that we are exposed to; news panels, comedy shows, newspaper photography, movies, TV shows, and, as I can see no other reason for the removal of these characters than to appeal to your intended (if not actual) male demographic to the exclusion of potential female readers, this seems like a terribly cynical step further down the slope of representing women in a narrow range of roles - mostly limited to; wife, mother or partially clothed.

I would be interested to hear your motivations for this removal, if they are different than the above. I have asked for clarification on Twitter, which has thusfar been ignored, so I eagerly await your response by email.

Angharad Beurle-Williams"