Meanwhile, Back in SFland

While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (“and an increasing number of men,” as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again. Some links:

  • The TOC for Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates.
  • Kev McVeigh: “Oh yes, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction by Boys volume one has Mary A Turzillo as token feminine contributor. One woman from eighteen listed authors.  Volume Two is obviously the feminist volume with a remarkable three women out of fourteen involved. Neal Asher gets two stories though, to restore the balance. It’s back to normal for Volume Three as fifteen stories allow room for just one woman.”
  • Ian Whates: “Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors [...] the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.”
  • Jennifer Pelland: “This doesn’t surprise me. When I was invited to submit to the Solaris SF 3 anthology, it was because they’d noticed that they didn’t have enough women in it. Imagine my surprise upon opening my comp copies to discover that ‘not enough’ meant ‘none until they invited me.’”
  • Tricia Sullivan: “I’m hard-pressed to imagine another UK anthologist who could have done better than Ian Whates with this book.  Ian is proactive when it comes to women writers.  He goes out of his way.  (That’s one reason I made certain I got my story in, even though it was a real stretch for me with my current schedule.)  Now, in the current climate it may be judged (particularly by USian standards) that he is not proactive enough.  OK.  This then begs the question, how proactive is enough?  To what lengths should anthology editors be going? [...] I want to see change but I don’t want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society–and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain.  I don’t think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs.  I’ve worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them.  Do we live in a sexist culture?  Yes, absolutely.  Fucking yes.”
  • DMS at GeekaChicas: “The 2011 [Hugo] ballot is out, but at the time of this writing, voting is still open. In a year where 43% of novels published were by women, 4 out of 5 nominees in the novel category are women. Before we break out the Champagne or lament the suppression of men, I should also point out that 3 of the last 5 Hugo Awards for Best Novel were awarded based on ballots without women. The 90′s only had one year with an all male ballot. This century, we’ve had 4. That means 40% of the Hugos awarded this century didn’t shortlist a woman for the novel category.”
  • Liz Williams: “A large percentage of the book editors in SF in this country are female. Their hands are tied by the accounts depts of publishers: I don’t think that it’s because they want to fail to commission other women – on the contrary. It’s a numbers game, of which many male authors are also falling foul (in SF – not, e.g., in urban fantasy where women do seem to be on strong ground). I think it is an issue with SF selling at all, no matter who writes it.”
  • Cheryl Morgan: “If you are running a small press (which is something I happen to do) you need to make a choice as to whether you are doing it for love, and hope that your projects break even, or you are doing it to make a living. In the latter case, if you believe that you are operating in a market where most male readers won’t buy science fiction by women — and, let’s face it, that’s what the big publishers in London are telling us — then you would be daft to publish much SF by women. You have to take a conscious decision to risk sales if you want to diversify your content. [...] various women writers have come forward and said that they were invited by Whates, but for various reasons were unable to deliver. If that is the case, a less inflammatory response would have been to suggest that perhaps women writers have more pressures on their time, thereby preventing them from submitting as often as men, rather than suggest that they are no good. (This is a very common feminist response to allegations of, ‘it’s all the wimmin’s fault for not trying!’)”
  • Charlie Stross: “I think there is a problem with unconscious cognitive bias on the part of some male anthology editors — not naming anyone here — so in future my response to an anthology request by a male editor with a bad recent track record (or no track record) will be ‘can you confirm that your list of invited contributors is at least 30% female and 10% minorities?’ I hope in most cases to get an ‘of course’ by return of email, but if it makes just one editor sit up and question their assumptions about who to invite, I’ll consider it a job well done.  I don’t insist that the final outcome should be quota-based, but if a male editor can’t be arsed inviting women and minorities to contribute then I can’t be arsed letting them use my name for publicity.”
  • Aliette de Bodard: “The Solaris Rising TOC (4 women authors out of 16-17 stories) doesn’t strike me as particularly horrifyingly sexist either–there’s just no way you can guarantee you’ll have 50-50% female representation in anthologies, both because of the sample (less women writing SF for a variety of complex reasons), and because of the way things shake out (as an anthologist, you can try invite 50-50% men-women, but you can’t even be sure the responses will be balanced).”

Plus lengthy comment discussions here and here.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on the discussion as it develops, and I’m glad to see people providing solid statistics and discussing market forces (and the perception of market forces–not always the same thing) as well as talking about ideology. I don’t think the ideological conversation is sufficient. We have to talk about real-world factors too.

For example, if Anthologist J solicits a story from Writer K, and K thinks the anthology sounds grand and interesting, what makes K more likely to actually be able to contribute? The obvious answer is: having a suitable unpublished story that could be submitted, or having time to write a story that’s appropriate to the anthology. Is that sort of availability and/or backlog more common among men than among women? Maybe. Women certainly tend to have less free time than men (because women do disproportionate shares of household work and child-rearing in addition to working). More free time over the course of years translates to more trunk stories, too, and maybe a broader range of them. And if an anthologist has to look further afield for women to invite, those women may be less likely to have a story handy that fits the anthology’s theme.

I’ve been putting together the program for Readercon, and I was entirely shocked when two women we invited told me they don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels. I’ve never heard anything like that from a man. [EDIT: A woman has emailed me to say she heard a man once say "Readercon is where I go to feel stupid"--though I wouldn't classify that the same way as withdrawing from the program.] I’m also pretty sure I received more “may I be on your program?” requests from men than from women (I’ll try to remember to keep statistics next year). It’s pretty well known that that sort of behavior is socially gendered. I would not be at all surprised if female authors are more likely to self-sabotage by saying “I’m not good enough to be in this anthology” or “I don’t have anything that works for this” or “I can’t write in that genre”, while men might be more likely to send in a story that’s a little off-topic, or send something unsolicited even if the anthology is supposedly closed to submissions.

I’m taking the Russ Pledge to talk about women’s writing, of course, but talking isn’t enough. I hope anthologists will pledge to solicit stories from as diverse a group as possible and to advertise open reading periods in places where people who aren’t “the usual crowd” will see the ad and submit stories. I also hope female writers will pledge to submit stories more often and more widely, and to find ways to say “yes” when they’re invited to contribute to an anthology. Remember the Slush Bomb? (Did anyone ever keep an eye on F&SF to see whether the number of published stories by women went up after that?) Let’s make every day Slush Bomb Day and see what happens.

14 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Back in SFland

  1. Kate Elliott

    I want to mention that the new Clarkesworld roundtable on epic fantasy includes an equal number of female to male authors interviewed.

    I note this in particular because many of the best known book blogs that review epic fantasy seem to skew disproportionately to reviews and interviews of male epic fantasy writers, although I don’t have statistics on this. Obviously that is one of the ways in which visibility and invisibility manifest. I doubt it is deliberate; like Stross, I would call it cognitive bias.

  2. kev mcveigh

    When I wrote the original post I thought it was clear enough that I was critical of Solaris rather than Ian Whates. I made a point of stating how Ian’s record gave me higher expectations. Even so Ian and others took it as a personal attack. Subsequently other posts which all link back to mine have got very personal and nasty, that wasn’t my intent.

    More disappointing for me is to note that the past week has seen almost Thirty times the traffic on that one post compared to the total views of all the reviews of female writers on my blog. I’ve written about Jody Scott, Leigh Kennedy, Zenna Henderson, Felicia Snoop Pearson, Jackie Kay and Josephine Saxton recently. The Russ Pledge encourages the writing about these authors, but it needs to be followed through into the bigger conversations. We need free flowing buzz about the new Lisa Goldstein, about Elspeth Cooper’s debut, etc in the way we see it about certain male authors. As I tweeted about the Solaris flap, I hoped some of those who came for the fight would stay for the party.

  3. Celine

    Wow. I just realised that I self sabotage all the time. I’ve turned down many invitations to online chat sessions and real-life panel discussions due to not feeling like I have enough to contribute. I’ve even turned down invitations to anthologies ( not any that are mentioned here) It hadn’t occurred to me that this was what I was doing until you pointed it out Rose. I had never realised that the mere fact of having been invited meant that someone somewhere believed me suitable, I had simply assumed it to be politeness on their part – or worse, a mistake that they would regret later. What a f*cking crazy thing to have revealed to me about myself at this stage in my life!

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      Oh, Celine. I am so glad to have helped with that–and breathless with sadness for you! I hope you can find ways to believe in yourself more. And as a convention program chair, I can assure you that when we invite someone, we really want them there; it’s not politeness and it’s not a mistake. Next time, say YES!

      1. Celine

        Thanks, Rose! I feel like an idiot to be honest – but I’m more than happy to own up to having been an idiot and to stop acting like one! Thanks for shining a light on the kind of behaviour that I would have kicked my daughter’s butt for indulging in!

  4. Madame Hardy

    ” If that is the case, a less inflammatory response would have been to suggest … rather than suggest that they are no good. (This is a very common feminist response to allegations ”

    I have never in my life heard a *feminist* explain that women don’t succeed because they are no good. Never. I have seen sexists (of both genders) say this in response to feminists complaining about poor representation.

    I call straw man. This doesn’t stop me from being horrified by Cheryl’s story about the pressures exerted by the big publishers.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      I’m not Cheryl, but I read her as saying that the “less inflammatory response” is a common feminist response, not that “they are no good” is a common feminist response.

  5. Madame Hardy

    By the way, this is not a “no true Scotsman” defense. I’ve never heard a self-identified feminist say anything of the sort.

  6. Andrew Porter

    Darned uppity wimmen!!!

    I thought we were long past the days when PLAYBOY published Ursula K. Le Guin under the name U.K. Le Guin…

  7. Tim

    Wow. As an SF reader weaned on Sheri Tepper & Ursula K Le Guin… & son of one of Andre Norton’s biggest fans…as some one who actually cried when Syne Mitchell stopped writing (but who holds out hope)…who has just recently enjoyed finding Eleanor Arnason (thanks Rose) and Judith Merril…I am surprised that this problem continues and is this bad.

    I am making lists of new authors to explore (next year) thanks to previous comments.

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