Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Feminist Science Fiction: Girl Cootie Zeitgeist - All In.

The invisibility of women in science fiction meta conversation got another boost recently, as yet another ToC failed to make the grade.

Cue the screeching halt, mansplaining and return to 101. AGAIN.

Seriously people, this is getting tiring.

There's a lot of fingers and pointing and excuses and protestations of how it all looks Just Too Hard to fix the problem of sexism in publishing (if you even want to acknowledge that it exists) because of how wide ranging and systemic the problem is, so why even bother.

You should bother because we are human beings who are artists who are half the population who have meaningful insight to offer to literature. Because Science Fiction can be anything we want it to be.

Sticking your head in the sand and creating defenses is Not Helping. Some people are actively working to better gender representation in SF, whether that's an editor or 'zine consciously slushing/looking for women writers (or unconsciously if women feel it's a safe environment and they submit there often) but not tokenizing them, or Nicola Griffith's Russ Pledge, or Ian Sale's Mistressworks review site, or having an active non-101 discussion.

This is good, but not good enough. We need to do more. It's time to take work on the solutions, one chip in the ice with the pick axe at a time. Without derailing. Without dogpiling. Without telling women and allies their anger and emotions are not a justifiable response, because we're tired of being told to modify our responses and our names to be taken more seriously. 

There are recurring themes cropping up in these discussions, and Cheryl Morgan outlines some of them in a recent post in response to the most recent ToCFail:
Looking at a single anthology, you have no idea where the real problem lies. It could be the editor, it could be the publisher, it could be the submissions, you can’t tell. Also, just as an individual’s reading and voting habits are more likely to be a product of cultural conditioning than of conscious sexism, so an individual editor is more likely to choose stories based on cultural conditioning than a deliberate intention to exclude a particular group of writers. The objective of pointing out gender imbalances (or any other sort of imbalance) should be to encourage people to examine their cultural conditioning, not to decide who we are going to burn at the stake.

Theme: Editor/'Zine/Publisher can't be sexist, he/she/ze/they are Nice People (TM)!

Everyone is socialized in a patriarchal society, and it's difficult to break such coding when you've been dressed in pink or blue, passivity or aggression, since birth. That's part of understanding privilege - even nice people can muck up, be ingrained in an industry or company mindset, move within the framework to simply get things done.

Solution: If you're really an ally of gender parity in publishing you a) don't expect cookies for effort - if it's good, the zeitgeist will make the rumble it deserves b) set a target, and consciously slush for gender until you don't have to consciously do it no more.

Theme: I don't see gender in SF writing, only good stories.

Unfortunately, the world is not gender blind, and this sort of comment refuses to take into account, again, inherent gender socialization. Do you buy into the silly trope that men are better at science and math than women? Then you see gender in SF. Do you think women are only into that mushy stuff? The you see gender in SF.

Also, if you "don't see gender" then you'd also be reading SF by genderqueer writers. Do you? Because their voices are relevant too.

Solution: Read SF written by a woman. If you don't like it, read another woman. If you don't like that one either, read ANOTHER woman. Keep reading until you DO find a female SF writer you like. Female SF fans had to, and have to, do this all the time with male writers but it is never seen as a "challenge" - it's status quo. You can only change a bias by constantly challenging them. Reading one woman writer, and holding them up as your as some unicorn example  is not enough - that's tokenism.

Theme: I don't see/know that many female SF authors!


Solution: Use Google. Read outside your comfort zone. Get to know the history of the invisibility of women in SF.

Theme: Women only write a certain type of SF.

And that makes it science fiction any less how?

Solution: Get to know broader themes and dynamics within SF. AND read the women who write your "type" of SF too, because they exist.

Theme: I don't have that many women submitting.

Did you ever stop to ask why? Perhaps women view the market as hostile - they don't see many, if any, women being published in your market, or perhaps the word around is it's difficult to break as a female writer.

Solution: Work on building your reputation as a female friendly market. Cut the excuses and work on what you can. Every little bit helps.

Theme: I invited women to submit, but I didn't get enough responses.

How many women did you invite? Was it a token number, or a comparable figure to the men? Were you only inviting known female writers, and did you stop to consider that they may already be incredibly busy? Actually, the busy theme would go for many women writers, considering the socialized expectations of women, work, and family leaving them less time to write.

And when you got no or a negative response, did you go looking for more women to replace them?

Solution: Pick a number of female writers you want (that's more than token), and don't go under it. It may seem like more work, but if you are seen as making more of an effort to include women, it will get easier over time, and women writers will give you their time.

Theme: I take an interest in gender parity, but why is XYZ so mad?

Do you mean WoC? Queer writers? Writers with disabilities? It's called intersections, darling.

Solution: Don't ask me, or some other PoP (person of privilege), or their friends. ASK THEM.

Theme: It's the publisher/editors/readers/reviewers fault!

It's all their faults. And none.

Solution: Stop being part of the problem and pointing fingers.

When it comes to equality in SF publishing, and if you're intent on making a difference, there are many things to consider.  Don't let it daunt you - choose something within your sphere of influence to change/help out on, and a cascade effect may occur.  If you don't want to make a difference, make it clear and don't get in our way, and we'll let you quietly die out like the dinosaur you are.

But if you do care, make an effort - be All In. Only your best will do.


  1. When I edited 'A Foreign Country' (which ended up with a gender balance I was reasonably happy with, though could have been better from some other angles) we had a long submission period. Initially there were very few from women and I started to panic about What We Did Wrong, and then as we got closer to the submission date the proportion of stories written by women submitted just soared. I know that one anthology =/= data, but I'd suggest that when dealing with open submissions, a long time between announcement and deadline can help with the 'busy problem'.

  2. Interesting you say that, because I always thought the submission period for TfC was quite short compared to some I see (and have submitted to), and you did fantastically well to corrall everyone so quickly and with a minimum of fuss (I presume).

  3. TfC was short - though more-or-less invitation, and most people were editing up things that were mostly finished or submitting reprints, so I think it was less of an issue. AFC was at least six months from announcement to deadline. I have no idea why I keep editing things with similar initials...

  4. Haha, my reading comprehension fail! Foreign Country, yes, understanding now *slaps forehead*