Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh Dear: In which I get a schooling on tokenism from some great women

I've had a basic understanding of the concept of tokenism for some time, but I've never had to apply that concept to myself and my writing until now. Writing is a meritocracy, old chum, and some are more meritocratic than others...

I'm very late to the discussion, months late in fact, but only recently I've been to grappling with the idea of submitting to "Women Only" issues of magazines and anthologies if I ever came across them. In particular, the Realms of Fantasy "Women in Fantasy" special edition - I linked to this sometime back, and enthusiastically started writing a piece in time for the deadline.

I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't think too hard about it. Your Newbie Writer thought "Fantastic! This may be an outlet that may get my work seen on a more equal standing!"

Doh. Back to my reading and thinking harder I must go.

The other day I returned to the submission guidelines to remind myself of the date and address (this would be a snail mail submission, a whole other issue in itself considering our massive online world and presence). And I started reading the comments. And I thought "Huh. Well, I didn't think about that very well, did I."

What I didn't think about? That in 2010, women writers of spec shouldn't have to be Othered, shouldn't have to be given proportional representation, for their wonderful writing to be recognized. Proportional representation should just be a natural thing that happens all the time, in every issue of a magazine or in publishing.

Of course that's a naive state to exist in, but I certainly expect better. Every time I return to discussions like this of late, my thoughts return to Joanna Russ' "How To Suppress Women's Writing". Mis-representation of women's writing may not be as egregious as 30 years ago, and the industry may not be operating under intentional bad faith, but bad faith is still bad faith.

So I decided to check in with some writers and publishing people whose opinion I trusted on the matter.

Tansy Rayner Roberts says in "Realms of Fantasy: now for Ladies!":
Women are actually not a minority in fantasy fiction, even if they are regularly treated/discussed as if they are. A women’s only issue appears to be addressing the problem, while not actually making any changes that will have a long term effect on the gender balance of the magazine.
I agree with Tansy when she says women's fantasy fiction needs to be celebrated, but as she says a women's only issue is "the very definition of tokenism" if editors and publishers are not willing to address the underlying issues of representation. She offers some good advice on how do this, and it's so simple it's stupid:
If you’re going to bring affirmative action in to try to change the diversity levels and particularly the gender balance of your magazine, then trying to regularly publish a 40-50% balance of female authors would be a far more useful contribution.
Alisa Krasnostein - whose blog I seem to end up at more and more these days - says in "The latest in female presence in SF ToCs":
[The all women's issue] not only acknowledges that you have a problem, but it seeks out not to address the why, not even to address if it is somehow to do with how the editor reads and selects stories.
It's a matter of re-educating yourself past your comfort level and privilege, which requires listening to women, and female identifiers and allies, about their experiences. As Krasnostein says:
I just don't seem to have a problem with the gender balance thing. And I don't specifically slush for it.
Some people may (and did!) cry "Reverse Sexism!". Cat Valente said in "All Girl Action":
I feel certain that there have been all male issues without calling them THE ALL DUDE REVUE.
Here's the thing about an -ism: it requires a certain privilege and power to perpetrate that -ism. For the marginalized to be told they're abusing a power and privilege they don't have is laughable -  It shows bad faith that you would throw back in the face of those attempting to deal with their marginalization as a way to divert attention from yourself.

What this all means to me, having dipped my toe in some gender and publishing politics, is that I have decided against sending the story I have written for just this project to RoF. It's not like I'm short of outlets for submission that already have affirmative action as stock standard slush rules, and not just for women either. There are also some great outlets doing great things recognizing the contribution and stories of GLBTI, disabled writers, and writers of colour, culture or religion.

And that's today's lesson. I am edumacated a little bit more.

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