USA Today Bestselling Author Ann Aguirre writes science fiction, urban fantasy, YA and romance. The readers and writers I know wouldn’t think anything of that statement and Ann’s faithful readers are thrilled with it. But there seems to be a dark side lurking in the sci-fi community that apparently thinks of female authors who write the genre as somewhat sub par.
A couple days ago, Ann Aguirre wrote a stirring blog exposing the ugly beast that resides in the science fiction field. According to Ann’s blog:
I’ve held my silence when I probably shouldn’t have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn’t play nice.
I don’t care about that anymore. If this means I don’t get into anthos or invited to parties, I don’t give a f**k. I care more about doing the right thing, about speaking out, so maybe other women who have had these experiences will do the same. If enough of us gather the courage to say, “Hey, look, this is NOT ALL RIGHT,” maybe the world will change. And if not, well, at least I stood up. I spoke. I didn’t sit quiet as a victim of sexism and let it happen.
She goes on to tell of her experiences at conferences.
In 2007, I sold my first book, Grimspace. It says it’s SF on the spine. I believe it to be SF, though it’s certainly written differently. I write in first person, present tense, and the protagonist is a woman with a woman’s thoughts, feelings, and sexual desires. But the book(s) take place in a rich, well-built science fiction world. There’s FTL travel and lots of planets to explore and aliens. Sounds like SF, right? Apparently not. And that’s the dismissive, occasionally scornful attitude I’ve received since 2008 when I made my first appearance as a professional in the SFF fandom.
At that con, I watched a respected male SF author get sloppy drunk and make women uncomfortable, fans and writers alike. I was one of them. I watched a respected SF writer break an elderly female fan’s heart by refusing to spend a minute talking with her. He was everything brusque, self-important, and rude. I consoled her afterward. I had a respected SF writer call me “girlie” and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER. When he realized I was not, in fact, his coffee girl, he didn’t apologize. And once we got into the panel, he refused to let me (or anyone else) speak. He interrupted me. He talked over me. He responded to questions that the audience asked me, when they asked me, by name, and he wouldn’t respond to the moderator, who was also female.
The panel was supposed to be about pseudonyms but he made it about how sad it was that the glory days were over. Point in fact, his wife participated more in the panel, by shouting out suggestions on what old stories he should tell next. If the panel had been called, “WHAT SF WAS LIKE IN 1969″, that would’ve been fine, I suppose, and I wouldn’t have been sitting there, feeling embarrassed, powerless, and ashamed, as I wasn’t born at that time.
I went home from that con feeling very sad and ashamed, because my colleagues had treated me like nothing, even though my book, Grimspace, sold out. There were over fifty copies in stock at BAMM, and I signed every last one of them. In fact, by the time my “formal” signing came along–with Sherrilyn Kenyon–they had none of my books left on the shelf. That was pretty cool. But despite good sales, I still felt bad.
Maybe it was a fluke, I thought. So I was excited when I found out I had been put on a SF panel at Comic-Con. I went, full of excitement and anticipation. But once I got there, I found more of the same. The moderator checked the pronunciation of the names of all male guests. (They were all male except me.) She did not ask me–and she got it wrong. Then in introducing me? She called me “the token female”. None of the male panelists objected; they were fine with it, apparently, and I was too new and scared to stand up for myself in a room full of men who were ex-military, who were actual rocket scientists, or worked for NASA. I wish I had. But I let them diminish me. I let it happen. I had a broken mic during the panel and nobody bothered to replace or fix it. The writer sharing his with me frequently took it away from me, or wouldn’t hand it over when I wished to speak. The male guests were dismissive and scornful of my work and my comments. I have seldom been so belittled or ashamed. By my peers. Why? My only difference is that I’m a woman and I’m writing SF the way I enjoy it. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, I thought. Maybe the audience didn’t notice. I was, frankly, on the verge of tears.
But then, David Brin, who was in the audience, came up to me. He shook my hand and said, “I liked what you had to say.”
The subtext I took from that was this: “Hey, sorry. Not all male SF writers are like this.”
So yeah. The audience noticed. I had slightly better experiences at WorldCon and ArmadilloCon, but I suspect it wasn’t as bad because I was roaming around with Sharon Shinn, who has more power and cachet than I had at that time. But I still encountered more than my share of fans, who dismissed my work. At that point, I was disheartened, and I stopped attending SFF cons entirely. I decided I’d rather spend my travel money otherwise. To quote my wonderful friend, Lauren Dane, “If I want to feel bad about myself, I’ll go swimsuit shopping.” My professional work shouldn’t be impacted by my gender, my appearance, my religion, my sexuality, my skin tone, or any other factor. The fact that it is? Makes me so very sad. I’ve had readers and writers stare at my rack instead of my face while “teaching” me how to suck eggs.
And now her battle has moved to a new phase:
I’ve been fighting this battle for five years now.
And now, here’s the second thing: I’ve been made aware of a post (that I’m not linking to) from a guy who is swinging at me again. Why? Because I’m getting my girl cooties all over his SF. He implies I’m incapable of grasping sophisticated SF references due to my gender–that I don’t actually write SF because it has women, sex, and feelings in it. I’m so tired and disheartened right now. The one bright spot was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.
But I’m still here. I’m still writing. You cannot shut me up. I will NOT SIT DOWN. I will not stand quietly by anymore. I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee.
Ann goes on to post some of the hate emails she received from men after posting her blog. You can read them here along with the hundreds of comments. They are not nice, to say the least. I was actually embarrassed for the ignorant writers of the emails.
I’ve since talked to Ann, who’s been traveling. She said, “I had a lovely time at KeyCon, which was a delightful surprise.
I didn’t post the worst, scariest, or ugliest hate mail I received. I also didn’t post every instance where I felt like gender influenced a male SF reader or writer’s reaction to my work. For example, at WorldCon (when I wasn’t with Sharon Shinn), I had an aspiring male SF writer approach me. He wanted to talk shop. I was patient and polite; I answered all of his questions about publishing. Then when he asked about my books, I told him about them. I had spent a good half an hour addressing all of his queries by this point. He responded to my brief about my work with, “Oh, I only read real science fiction.” And then he left without saying good-bye or thanking me for my time.
At the Comic-Con panel, I was trying to discuss the importance of writing female characters with agency. Too often, women are portrayed in two ways: as prizes to be won by men or as damsels in distress. So I was saying that my heroine, Jax, is a heroine in her own right, and she carries her own gun. One of the male guests interrupted with, “Who doesn’t like girls with guns? My books have those.” Then he carried on talking, so my original point was completely lost.”
I told Ann that I’d like to know about anything she’s taken away from writing it and the enormous, supportive response she’s received including anything positive she can see coming from this.
This has all been so much bigger than I expected… in a completely splendid way. I didn’t expect so much of a response; it’s been incredible and heart-warming. When I got home tonight, I checked the stats on my website. On June 3, I had 165,277 hits on my site and on June 4, it went to 207,103. June 5, there were 63,757. That’s a total of 436,137 in three days! I got a tweet from Neil Gaiman and David Brin commented on my blog (which has almost 400 comments on the sexism in SF post). It’s all rather unbelievable.
At this point, the positive feedback exponentially outweighs the hateful microcosm, and I’m so glad I did this. I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of emails, thanking me for being brave because now this woman has the courage to tell her own story or to stand up for herself and demand better treatment. A number of those emails brought me to tears, and if I helped strengthen the sisterhood and made other women feel better, then it was all worth it. I’m so proud to know so many courageous, creative women. The positive I see coming from this is that we’ve broken through the wall of silence, where it’s better to swallow our shame and outrage. If we’re united in our determination to demand equality and respect, the situation must improve.
I applaud Ann Aguirre for speaking out on this subject. It never is an easy thing to put yourself out there as a target. Do you agree with her? Disagree? Have you seen this behavior in action? Done anything about it?
Bottom Line: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~ Winston Churchill