Female Invisibility Bingo

One of the interesting things about having lived for some time in Australia and California as well as the UK is that you occasionally notice cultural differences. One appeared to pop up on Twitter this morning. People I followed in the US and Australia (and also New Zealand and the Philippines) were giving the thumbs up to this blog post by Nicola Griffith, whereas the reaction from UK people was more along the lines of, “those boring feminists are at it again.” This immediately reminded me of comments made by Gwyneth Jones and Farah Mendlesohn on the recent Woman’s Hour program, in particular Farah saying, “…the market in the States is far better, the market here is problematic…”.

Now of course my Twitter pals are not necessarily a very representative sample. I don’t think, however, I have a different political mix amongst people I follow in the UK to those I follow elsewhere. And of course the debacle of the feminism panels at Eastercon was fresh in my mind. I do think we could do better in the UK. (And a hat tip here to people like Niall Harrison, Ian Sales and Kev McVeigh who have been doing good work, but why do we have to rely on men to do that work?)

Anyway, regardless of whether there’s an issue with the UK or not, the issues raised by Nicola’s blog post, and the complaints I saw about it on Twitter this morning, still need to be addressed. Of course this is yet another post about invisibility and exclusion. It therefore ties in to a long history of complaints about such problems involving award short lists, anthology ToCs, guest lists for conventions (yes, you, Kapow!) and more recently the number of women reviewers, and number of books by women accorded reviews (overview here).

Is this just women being whiny? Are we finding sexism where none exists? Personally I disagree, because the point here is that sexism is a cultural phenomenon, not just a few random acts by bad people. If you define sexism and only occurring when a man does something prejudiced to a woman then you are likely to find Nicola’s post irrelevant, but unless you get at the root of the issue — what Fay Weldon succinctly described on the BBC Book Review Show as the idea that men are more important than women — then sexist actions will continue to happen. Which is why, every time we see something that suggests men are much more important than women, us uppity feminists make a bit of noise.

Talking of the Book Review Show, the issue of gender balance came up there too. I think we can politely pass over John Mullan’s offhand dismissal that the ladies “were exaggerating”. However, Daisy Goodwin asked why women should care about recognition when they sell more books. It is a good question, but before I answer it let’s look at some of the other complaints raised.

Nicola’s post references Joanna Russ’s famous book, How to Suppress Women’s Writing [buy isbn=”9780292724457″]. In particular she quotes the part where Russ notes the various excuses made for not recognizing the contribution of women to the field:

“She didn’t write it.”
“She wrote it but she wrote only one of it.”
“She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist (sf writer), and it isn’t really art (sf).”
“She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.”

There should be a bingo card, and we can add to it some of the reasons I saw given this morning as to why women shouldn’t care about exclusion from things like “best of” lists.

1a. Women shouldn’t complain about exclusion because their books are more popular than men’s.
1b. Women shouldn’t complain because the lists reflect popular taste.

2a. Women shouldn’t complain because it is only critics talking and who cares what they think?
2b. Women shouldn’t complain because it is only fans talking and who cares what they think?

Yes, I did pair those deliberately. That should be sufficient to make the point. Suggestions for further entries on the bingo card are welcome. (And please note that my copy of How to Suppress Women’s Writing is stranded in California. It would not surprise me at all to discover that Russ had mentioned the above excuses as well.)

Back with the point, why does it matter who gets reviewed, who wins awards, who gets anthologized? Because those things will eventually make up his-story. So when people come to look back because, for example, they have been asked to name their all-time favorite SF book, they will only remember the books that history tells them about. The others will be forgotten, and become invisible.

The issue that Nicola was talking about was not one of, “oh, it is not fair, a bunch of sexists have not chosen any books by women”. Rather it was one of, “oh look, women writers have been forgotten again.” And the sad thing is that, because they have been forgotten, people then use their apparent lack of existence to justify the fact that historical lists ignore them.

I should note here that I am not expecting a 50:50 split. Obviously it was harder for women to get published in the past, and it still isn’t easy today. I don’t think that Nicola was expecting a 50:50 split either. She just wasn’t expecting 96:4.

I note also that this isn’t entirely men’s fault. Back in the 70s feminist critics tended to dismiss earlier SF by women because it was too “domestic”. Recent academic work by people like Justine Larbalestier and Lisa Yasek has show that this “domestic” SF was a lot more pointed and satirical than was earlier thought. Justine’s book, Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century [buy isbn=”9780819566768″] provides a good introduction to some early women SF writers.

The main issue here, however, is that complaining isn’t enough. If we want women writers to get recognition we have to do something about it. We have to talk about them, and we have to get them back into print. Nicola’s post, having noted the problem, was very much all about how we needed to do something, not just sit back and complain. And that’s mostly why I was so sad to see it being dismissed as whiny.

So I’m going to be talking to Nicola, and anyone else who is interested, about getting good SF by women back into print. Suggestions of books/authors you’d like to see available again are welcome.

77 thoughts on “Female Invisibility Bingo

  1. POD and ebook tech surely makes this a more viable project than it’s ever been before. I’d be happy to help out with proofing and stuff like that, if it’s any help? Or with other such tasks.

    A thought: maybe the co-operative or not-for-profit model would be appropriate for a press project of this type?

    1. Ebooks are definitely the way to go. The main issue will be rights, especially if the author is dead and we are having to deal with an agent managing the estate. There may be need for Kickstarter projects.

      I’m all in favor of giving most of the revenue to the author, and ploughing revenue back into the project, but equally I don’t expect people to work for nothing.

  2. What I think are cool are the Baen omnicollections that combine short novels and short stories.

    Note they also did e-versions of such, and A. Bertram Chandler now getting paper books as a result, as an example of that sort of thing.

    People that those would might work for those that I have read and liked :- :- (apart from the fact that the shortage of Tiptree is staggering)


    Zenna Henderson
    Katherine MacLean
    C. L. Moore
    Margaret St. Clair

    I love Leigh Brackett more than just about anybody, but likely well taken care of already at the moment.


    Eleanor Arnason
    Pat Cadigan
    Leanne Frahm
    Lee Killough
    Pamela Sargent
    Melissa Scott (who’s a classic for an ebook bundle of novels with all her work)
    Lucy Sussex
    Cherry Wilder

    And an observation. Yes, what you are talking about above does come across as a little bit whiny, certainly. But the internet is for complaining, after all. 🙂

    However, if a little of that energy was put into writing _about_ female writers and others, in public, that is more lasting. And will be there still, as a reference, after the latest round of blogweetery has come and gone. Especially in the sense you I think say you are aiming for in your zine, a little less dry than something derived from PhD theses.

    An exercise would be: find online pieces written about any of the above by women. Or about Dorothy McIlwraith, Cele Goldsmith or Karen Haber or Kristine Kathryn Rusch, to mention some editors. It won’t take too long, in general, I think.

    Actual works is something that would take a bit more time to put together. For Lee Killough, you could almost do the lot in one.

  3. I think we need to keep the conversation going. As long as we’re talking about women sf writers, we’re preventing them from being ignored or forgotten. And if we get enough people talking about them, we can change how others think about them, such as moving them from the chapters on “feminist sf” or “women writers” in critical works to the actual chapters in which they belong.

  4. I read Nicola’s article and agree with her points. I think we need to develop very thick skins here. Let’s not care if (some) people call us whiny – or worse, let’s just do it.

    I have a blog and time; being semi-retired has its virtues. I’m willing to write reviews or research articles. Just point me in the right direction.

  5. And a hat tip here to people like Niall Harrison, Ian Sales and Kev McVeigh who have been doing good work, but why do we have to rely on men to do that work?)

    We have to rely on them, because they are listened to more than we are, and that is part of the problem: all three of these men have, at some point, said something along the lines of “no one is talking about…” when what they actually mean is “no men are talking about…”

    In the sense that only men are regarded as people in the conversation, we don’t seem to be much further on. Today’s “she’s disappeared” writer on Twitter was Georgette Heyer. Apparently she is neglected. Which explains why Random House are searching for new covers to reprint yet again (about the fifth set I think), there was a conference on her last year, and a new bio out this year.

    1. Farah, to be fair, I think you may be over-stating my ability to affect any online conversation. Nor are the conversations to which I contribute limited to only male participants (for example, I was the only man on the two panels at Eastercon on which I sat; as Kev was on his). Which is not say that more talk, more women being heard, and a higher profile for the topic are not required.

      Also, I’ve never thought of Heyer as a vanished writer, though I admit I don’t look out for her titles in book shops since I own them all anyway.

      1. Go back and read the twitters Ian. Look at how often a writer is described by a man as being neglected, only to have women chime in saying “she is?”

        I am not trying to pick on you, or make it personal, just to say that even Cheryl picking up on the three male names is part of the phenomenon. When you made your list it went viral, yet similar lists produced by women have been around for ages.

        What we mean by privilege is precisely your need to accept that as a man intervening in a debate, however well meaning, you get kudos for the very things that get a woman described as shrill.

        1. IIRC, the Women of SF periodic table went viral last year when it appeared, although its format may have hampered it. A meme-list is much more likely to spread. And so it did.

          What we mean by privilege is precisely your need to accept that as a man intervening in a debate, however well meaning, you get kudos for the very things that get a woman described as shrill.

          Well, yes, I often mention the three lists I put together, but not because I want the kudos but because I want the conversation to continue and grow. If someone were to take the list(s) off me (and correct the mistakes I made on it) and propagate it themselves, I’d be happy for them to do so. I’m in the conversation because I think it’s important and the topic interests me, and, to be honest, because some of my favourite sf writers are women and I welcome the opportunity to champion them.

      2. I’d like to add that while I very much appreciate what you guys are doing, having the effort led by men is liable to make women less willing to get involved because they expect they’ll be ignored and sidelined. That’s not to say you would do such a thing, it is just a function of women being used to having that done to them in male-led conversations.

        1. Cheryl: yes, absolutely women should speak up on these matters and take a lead on them. That’s why I appreciated Nicola’s post so much, because it made suggestions for change.

          Women need to work to help each other, rather than dismissing or undermining each other’s efforts.

          This is not to say that women should refrain from criticising one another but critiques should be helpful and remember that there’s nothing the old guard likes more than pointing at women in a middle of a ‘catfight’.

          And honestly, there needs to be a systematic change in the education of children to do something to change the deeply embedded cultural indoctrination of typical gender roles. And of course, much-needed change on attitudes to race, sexuality, class, etc.

    2. Farah, I completely agree that women need more male allies.

      For exactly the reason you gave: they (unfortunately) are listened to more because they are men. Particularly on the issue of feminism where they are considered somehow amazingly enlightened because they are vocal in wanting women to have a fair shake.

      And, of course there is an element of the “knight on shining armour” going on: “Oh, look, they’re saving women from the evil monster Neglect.” /swoon

      Sarcasm aside I welcome men who step up and speak out on these issues. They need to be aware of the importance of what they are doing, but equally be sensitive to the issue that their opinion in this matter still weighs more heavily than a woman’s.

      What has disappointed me greatly is that the times I’ve spoken out about the absence/disproportionate numbers of women at a couple of genre events not one of the male guests at those events publicly stated: this is not right.

      They all go silent, while perhaps agreeing with me. Because, let’s be honest, I suspect many of them don’t want to lose a spot at one of these events. It’s understandable in a way, but it just ensures that women continue to get the short end all the time.

      When it comes down to it a lot of men have something to lose about sharing an equal spotlight with women. Silence (and covert compliance) ensures nothing changes.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this since I read the Guardian articles and then Nicola Griffith’s post. I’m a book packrat, and out of curiosity I just took a look at my bookshelves – the only female authors of “classic” SF on my shelves are Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Madeleine L’Engle and (to really push it) James Blish novelizations of D.C. Fontana’s Star Trek episodes.

    Things are quite a bit better if I check my shelves for female fantasy authors, or for “modern” female SF authors, i.e. those who published after 1980. (I’m not sure why I consider pre-80s “classic” and post-80s “modern”. Probably because I was born in the 80s!).

    When I was a youngster, I just started at the As in the public library and read my way through it, and after a few months would move onto the next library. I read any SF or fantasy I could get my hands on, regardless of gender, nationality, or quality! So if those are the only pre-1980s female SF authors I can think of, they are probably the only ones that were available to me in 1980s/1990s Ireland.

    I have no suggestions for you of authors to reprint, because I can only name 4 authors. I am seriously weirded out by that….

  7. At the risk of priviledging the authors I happened to first encounter as a teen, if any of the following are out of print, I’d like to see them back in print:

    Eleanor Arnason (mainly because someday I’d like to actually see a book by her reach Waterloo County)
    Octavia Butler
    Joy Chant
    Suzy McKee Charnas
    Jo Clayton
    Candas Jane Dorsey
    Phyllis Eisenstein
    Tanith Lee
    Elizabeth A. Lynn
    Vonda McIntyre (not that 4-part O’Neill colony in space series, though)
    Patricia A. McKillip
    Pat Murphy
    Rachel Pollack
    Marta Randall
    Pamela Sargent
    Lisa Tuttle
    Joan D. Vinge
    Élisabeth Vonarburg
    Cherry Wilder

      1. I could do an equally good one of more recent female authors but I happen to have a list of women who debuted in SF in the 1970s handy because of an earlier conversation.

  8. On the matter of getting SF by women back into print, Book View Cafe (www.bookviewcafe.com) is a project started by women and led by women and dedicated to doing exactly that. It’s expanded somewhat in terms of genre and gender both, but the ratio of women to men is still six or seven to one, and the core is still SF/F. And Vonda N McIntyre is one of us…

  9. Orthodox and the other. Talking to mi partner t’other night about ‘men’s football’ sounds odd dunnit?:)

    Barcode Anthology Competition, sponsored by bunch o’ publishers?:)

    No names on subs (insert details of how to here) ten/however many, stories for an anthology, (the Barcode Anthology sounds sfy t’me)

    and may the best…people win;)

  10. Not to belittle the issue at hand, which I agree is an important one, but has no one considered that the Guardian poll that started this might have been skewed by the Guardian’s readership? After all, if they conducted it, presumably it was their readers who answered… Maybe the poll says more about their readership than the general state of of play regarding female SF writers.

    Just saying.

    1. Possibly, yes, but every other national newspaper in the UK is more sexist and more right wing than The Guardian, so what does that tell you about the UK?

  11. Along with many of those already mentioned, Doris Piserchia deserves to be back in print. Spaceling in particular, which is a terrific YA novel.

    (Or in print for the first time: she apparently has a story in The Last Dangerous Visions.)

  12. Octavia Butler’s books had a huge influence on me. Others I loved: books by Marge Piercy, Nicola Griffith, Maureen F. McHugh, Pamela Sargent, Vonda N. McIntyre, Joan D. Vinge, Joanna Russ, Leigh Brackett, Carol Emshwiller, and Joyce Carol Oates for starters.

    And I think we need to pay attention to presses like Virago, who have decades of great work putting out women writers (although it looks like they’ve slowed down their sf/fantasy work…)

    Oh, and women need to buy other women’s work (they don’t *have* to like it, but they should try to read more diversely).

    We are just as encultured to miss women’s writings as men. It’s a horrid moment when you first realise that…

    1. Just looked at Cheryl’s post further up and can I say yes, yes, yes to Suzy McKee Charnas, Timmi Duchamp and Kelley Eskridge in particular! (Can’t believe I forgot Charnas!)

  13. That calm, rational, measured call to action is “whiny” eh? Clearly I need to adjust the gadget in my head that perceives “tone.” Again.

    I was struck by one aspect of the Guardian article where sf authors were asked to list their favorite sf books. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/14/science-fiction-authors-choice

    (I came to the article because of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ blogpost
    http://tansyrr.com “Looking at Lists of Bests (Again)” in which she points out that 16 men and 8 women were invited to participate, and that resulted in a list of 20 books by men and 4 women.)

    In that article, the people who recommended books by men, with one single exception, listed the title of a particular book. (The exception was Lovecraft, whose whole body of work was recommended.) Of the women writers who were favorites, only one specific title was listed: (drumroll) The Left Hand of Darkness. The other women listed were recommended for their whole body of work: Virginia Woolf, Octavia Butler, and Diana Wynne Jones. I agree absolutely that the oeuvre of each is worthy of attention, but this tactic winds up inadvertently suggesting that it takes the whole product of a woman’s life to get on a list with Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau or Ballard’s The Voices of Time. And I notice that lists of women authors above are just that: lists of authors, not of books. I think specificity might work in favor of recognizing women’s writing.

    Kate Wilhelm seems to be missing from the lists above, and most of her SF is currently out of print. I’d especially like to see Juniper Time back in print and returned to the conversation. It’s about the social impact of climate change, linguistics, and why we’re so very much interested in contacting/being contacted by aliens. It has a female protagonist who struggles to come into her power (and does), but it also contains a female character who is a stereotyped, manipulative, rich, daddy’s-little-girl, who will no doubt cause much outrage. It was published in 1979 and contains characters who are Native American, and who seemed well-realized and respectfully handled to me at the time. (It’s been a while since I’ve reread the book.) The social disturbances created by climate change include violence, and the violence includes rape. In short, it seems pretty well calculated to create a whirlwind of reaction. In 1979 it slipped beneath the waves rather quickly. See what you think.

    1. Regarding that Guardian special, I understand that the people who were asked to contribute were given a variety of criteria on which to choose something to write about, and one or two were a little surprised to see their words represented as a “best SF” choice.

      1. I woulldn’t be the least surprised. “Favorite” and “best” aren’t synonyms, for me at least, and the two terms keep switching back and forth in the article, and in discussion of it.

        Nonetheless, the article as it stands winds up equating, or inviting a comparison between, the oeuvre of a woman with one work by a man. Ideally, I think a woman’s work should be perceived as significant on its own, able to be both important and imperfect, worthy of comment both as part of her oeuvre and in the conversation as a whole, liked by some and disliked by others. (And while you’re on that, the moon please, on a plate. (grin))

        1. That doesn’t seem as clear as I wanted it to be. (I’m running a fever, and things aren’t coming out quite right.) I’ve been struck recently by how ridiculously easy it is to make a work by a woman drop off the “significant” list. All you really have to do is tick one box: someone (vocal) doesn’t like it; it isn’t perfect (either artistically or politically); it can be construed not to be essential to the larger conversation; it can be construed not to be representative of the author’s oeuvre. (I’m as guilty as anyone. Other people’s lists of best books by women often seem full of eccentric choices to me. My favorities would be so much more appropriate!)

          Works by men can be both important and imperfect. They (usually) survive being disliked by someone. They are frequently used to define the conversation.

          I want those things for works by women, too.

          1. Susan, can I quote this in a blog post? I think you’ve framed a crucial point in a very clear way.

  14. There seems to be a cycle of neglect – see all those Gollancz promos of six books which are all male writers with shiny covers, the balance of Masterworks in various incarnations. Things are out of print so people don’t read them. They’re not read because they don’t get published because they’re not read because… The Forbidden Planet 50 Books You Must Read is pretty skewed too – two by Le Guin, a Russ and a Beukes. Note that this wasn’t best or favourite, but must. (Actually, yes, you must read The Female Man. It’s still relevant today.)

    There were fears – twenty years back? – about the vanishing midlist, but now there’s the vanishing back catalogue. On the one hand, if I know what I’m looking for, I can find it online somewhere, but the serendipity of the spotted on a self is less easy to recreate. Real world secondhand bookshops are disappearing from back streets let alone high streets, and charity shops are less likely to carry battered paperbacks these days. It’s proactive to find the women oop writers. (And male oop writers, too.) Even all those Women’s Press sf novels seem to have vanished from remainderdom.

    The trick is for all of us to try and keep these books visible – with the proviso that sometimes this can be counter productive. (I taught on an Open University course which managed to put off its students from reading women – the block on the Canon pitted three plays by Shakespeare against one by Behn, and I’m afraid she lost.)

    It’s a shame that men get listened to more than women as authorities, but equally I’d fear that the promotion could be dismissed if its perceived as women doing special pleading about women. Whiny women, men trying to pull is not a good place to get to! Certainly any man on an all-male panel need to query the organiser (see the Gresham College panel), but then what tv comedy panel show ever has 50% women?

    I suspect sf is no worse than a lot of other cultural spheres (see sports, if you must, poets laureate, film directors…) but as a cultural enterprise which is precisely dependent of being aware of the arbitrariness of ideology and identity we have less excuse to accept a patriarchal heteronormative vision of alternate worlds.

    I’m rambling, so I’ll go back to listening.

      1. Thanks. I’m aware that I am pogoing through a minefield here (oh woes is me!!!) – it be would patronising to suggest that anyone needs my permission to do this or that – but men have to yield power or position for others to have it. Or, in a concrete example, which twenty-one novels would have to be dropped from the Forbidden Planet list to make way for (insert your own list of novels that must be read) novels by women.

        We had fifty slots to play with for 50 Key Figures in Science Fiction, and we wanted to to have a balance of sex, ethnicity, genres and periods. There were some hard choices, and it is a scientifically representative demographic, but we did get there, and I think it’s a listing which defines and redefines sf.

        I completely take Farah’s point that it would be a pity if people only listen if men are making a fuss – there appeared to be purloined promoters who are hidden in plain sight. (I had no idea that Georgette Heyer was neglected, but then I had no idea that South Riding was neglected or that AV wasn’t generally supported…) But everyone needs to make a fuss.

  15. Cheryl, this is a great post. Thank you.

    I’d love to see all of us, women and men, spend time talking about our favourite (and/or best and/or must-be-read) fiction (novels and short stories) by women.

    To that end, I’d like to encourage everyone to use their platform to discuss one book/story by a woman this month: a Classic or an Unknown or a Young Turk, doesn’t matter.

    If you don’t have a platform, offer to write a guest review for Ian Sales’s new blog, or mine, or someone else. But do it. Write it long or short, passionate or dispassionate–just explain to the world why *this* woman, *this* piece, is worth reading.

    I’ll write something this month. I’ll write something next month. I’ll write something the month after that. Hey, it’ll be a blast!

  16. I once had a fascinating discussion with another male Swedish fan about the Nobels. He noted, citing the fact that in the three natural science categories of the Nobels, 529 awards have by now been given to men and 16 to women (actually, the discussion was a few years back, and this is current figures; they haven’t changed much), that women’s intelligence tends less to extremes than that of males; while stupid males are more stupid than stupid women, brilliant males are also more brilliant than the smartest women, and so this statistic relflects the relative higher echelon intelligence of the sexes. Women, though, he also said, were of course more emotional, and so did better in literature. So far, however, 95 males and 12 women have had the Nobel in literature. Perhaps women are better at peace, where only 86 males have had the award, as compared to (again) 12 women. Or were all that interested in influencing world events, I suppose.
    An alternate way of looking at this might be to check the committees selecting the winners.
    The Nobel Committee for Physics consists of 4 males and 1 woman.
    The Nobel Committee for Chemistry consists of 4 males and 1 woman.
    The Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine consists of 5 males.
    The Nobel Committee for Literature is the Swedish Academy, which currently consists of 12 males and 5 women; one seat is vacant.
    Of course, the fan with whom I discussed, after some short vacillation, concluded that maybe women weren’t all that great writers, either.

    1. The different distributions thing is a fairly well known gender difference myth. I haven’t had time to read Cordelia Fine’s book yet, but perhaps someone who has could provide the necessary debunking.

      1. If you are looking for a good intro to Cordelia Fine’s book, Echidne of the Snakes (a PhD Economist) did a good series on The Science of Sex differences. She also read Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain and Rebecca M. Jordan-Young’s Brainstorm:The Flaws in The Science of Sex Differences.

        The first and last of her conclusions in her intro:

        1. Do not read all these in two days or so. You get tremendously angry and then you kick holes in the garage door.

        7. If a difference is found which appears to handicap men or boys (say, verbal skills and reading skills), the next step is to argue for compensatory actions in the society. If a difference is found which appears to handicap women or girls (say, three-dimensional mental rotation abilities), the next step is to argue that nothing can be done at all, and that any compensatory treatment should cease this minute.

        Note: Her links go to the archive page for a post, not the individual post. It’s difficult to find your way around, but well worth it.

        Thanks for these posts of yours. Am having thoughts about why women’s writing comes to be seen as “dated,” in a way that men’s doesn’t.

  17. Cross posted to Nicola’s blog.

    Farah Mendlesohn said…

    Very late to the discussion (sorry), I’ve been travelling.

    The BL exhibition is very good. The initial press release was devoid of women, but when this was [ahem] pointed out to them, they corrected it within twenty minutes in time for a later presentation. The book by Mike Ashley is hopeless.

    4% of women on that blogroll matches the 5% of BSFA novel awards which have gone to women. A quick and dirty calculation minutes before I went on to Woman’s Hour revealed the BSFA is abolutely the worst of the awards for rewarding women. This may be connected to the dreadful record of the UK sf imprints as that award is confined to books published in the UK, but the Clarke Award is one of the best at 44% awarded to women.

    In my survey of sf readers–self selecting–45% of the respondents were female.

    1. The four books out of fifty and two books out of twenty-five for Forbidden Planet and Gollancz 50 suggests an 8% figure; 4-8% seems to be the level of representation, which must be much lower than the published balance.

      Farah – I’m reminded of your observation about the Chain Reaction series, where female interviewees didn’t necessarily pick female interviewees. (Every one else – it’s a radio series where the guest one week is the interviewer the next: e.g. Jenny Eclair interviewing Jimmy Carr, Jimmy Carr interviewing Matt Lucas, Matt Lucas interviewing Johnny Vegas, Johnny Vegas interviewing Stewart Lee, Stewart Lee interviewing Alan Moore, Alan Moore interviewing Brian Eno. It’s not always comedians/comic writers, but it tends to be)

      1. Absolutely: to put it bluntly, women play fair, men do not.

        (and for those who rush in, yes, I know there are exceptions)

      2. Just a thought: didn’t we notice that the few men who broke the male-male chain were gay?

        1. Farah: It’s true of Richard Wilson (but I confess I hadn’t realised), but not of Adrian Edmondson. Matt Lucas chose a man; I don’t think any of the other contributors are gay but stand to be corrected.

      3. This goes back to my point about it being a cultural problem. Boys are raised to believe that it is wrong for them to like “women’s things”, that it is somehow a threat to their masculinity. Until we can break that habit, these imbalances will always happen.

        1. I think sadly that a lot of women are also raised to believe that male things are more important than female things, and that the best way to achieve anything “important” is to disassociate themselves from other women.

          I shouldn’t be crosser at women who don’t recommend books by other women (or in other ways support other women) than I am at men – there’s another double standard right there, amazing how often I trip over those things – but I often do feel that way. Partly it may be Farah’s ‘women play fair and men don’t’ but there are also so many women whose default setting (conscious or subsconscious) is that male work is more important… and there’s something else we have to overcome.

          Which is why male allies in this conversation are so important, though they will have to forgive us for occasionally resenting the power their voices have to supplement ours. We’re only human.

          1. This is my default setting Tansy. My entire childhood, the desirable goals were all about breaking in to men’s work. It takes effort not to naturally gravitate to the group of men in the room.

            (mind you, I have had some very bad experiences with women who thought there was only room for *one* woman, which have also coloured my reactions–all but one of my really supportive mentors have been men)

  18. Nicola, please do. I look forward to seeing it.

    But of course, how can anyone complain. The literary Nobel has always gone to authors of true genius, the immortals writing for posterity. Guys who still are and will always remain household names, like José Echegaray, Giosuè Carducci, Rudolf Eucken, Jacinto Benavente and a bunch of Swedes. No wonder they nixed the second-raters, like Willa Cather, H.D., Anna Akhmatova, Edith Wharton, Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, Colette, Marguerite Duras and all the rest, all deservedly long since forgotten.

  19. I find it a bit strange that Doris Lessing has not been mentioned yet. She’s got a Nobel! The Sirian Experiments is my favorite, thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious…

  20. Lessing is a wonderful writer (though personally I like her non-sf work better than her sf). I’m sorry about the rather heavy-handed irony (or worse) in my bi-annual rant about the Nobels, but at least with Lessing they did a good job. Even so, the gossip in Sweden was that she finally received the award only because one or two Academy members who had blocked her for decades finally became too old and feeble to attend meetings. I can’t vouch for this, but wouldn’t be surprised; minutes of the Academy are kept secret, but according to the memoirs of some members, there have been quite a few instances when strong candidates have been efficiently blocked by Academicians making it a matter of principle to stop them from receiving the award (Graham Green was one such author; Nabokov another).

  21. A thought: what about commissioning critical introductions to any reprinted books? I realise it’s an extra expense, but not that much extra, I wouldn’t think; and good context-providing introductions would ensure the books are received as part of a tradition and ongoing discussion, rather than in isolation.

    1. I think any series of classic fiction needs introductions of that sort, so thanks for suggesting it. We’d need to be a bit careful though. I wouldn’t want it to look like the books needed a stamp of approval from a man in order to be thought worthy. I’d be chasing up people like Farah, Helen Merrick, Sherryl Vint, Joan Gordon and so on.

  22. By a quirk of fate, I know quite a few up and coming very talented female SF writers in England. What worries me is that all this business about how unfair it is for women SF writers is going to put them off entering the SF genre. We all have potential escape routes planned, believe me! Sf is going to be the poorer for it. Sad, but regrettably true.

    1. I see, so everyone should just shut up about it and leave you to find out how things are in your own good time. At which point you will presumably complain about lack of support.

    2. Rosie, that accusation was leveled at me when I highlighted a similar bias in horror.

      The implication is that women won’t want to try break in because it’s perceived as too hard, or there are too many obstacles.

      Women have always been breaking into scenes that are difficult throughout history. We are like ninjas that way!

      I never under-estimate the capacity of women to grit their teeth and find ways in. And I, and other women (and men, hopefully), need to cheer on their efforts.

      This issue will not get better through silence. Women have made loads of gains but only through activism and action. Never through inaction or being quiet (which is the socially expected thing for women to do).

      We are framing these discussions in a positive light: we are offering solutions and promoting those who have gone before us. That should encourage women to keep working in the industry they love.

    3. Thanks to both Cheryl and Maura for their considered comments.

      However, the point I was trying to make, and apparently failing miserably, was that science fiction will be the loser, not the up and coming talents because they have the ability to go elsewhere.

      It is these kinds of factors and arguments that will make the rest of the science fiction community sit up and take notice.

      1. Rosie:

        Any woman writer who thinks that she can escape sexism by writing something other than science fiction will be seriously disappointed. You’ll find the same problems in crime and in “literary” fiction, you’ll find them magnified in horror and thrillers. Publishers will tell you to write fantasy, but even there you’ll find yourself encouraged to write YA or “urban fantasy” because those are “for women”. Or you could write romance, and find yourself in the only literary ghetto more despised than science fiction.

        What women writers should take from this discussion is that in the science fiction community people are prepared to stand up and say that women have produced good work, can produce more good work, and are wanted, despite what publishers might tell you.

        1. In my case, it’s science fiction or another profession. It’ll be the same for some of the others. Ultimately, all the up and coming talents have an immediate viable route into another profession entirely outside of writing.

          I know, it’s a depressing thought, but it’s reality.

          1. You say that like it is a bad thing. It isn’t. Most of the SF writers that I know, and I know a lot of them, have jobs outside writing as well. I know every young writer dreams of being the next Rowling, but the truth is that very few will make a full time career from it. That’s a far better reason than gender issues to make sure you have a backup plan.

            And frankly, if my talking about gender issues in the industry is going to put you off writing, you are not going to last far past your first few rejection letters.

  23. Just as a point of reference.

    I attended a comic book convention at the weekend. There were four panels, three of them were male-only (to be fair the con organiser told me afterwards he was mortified when he spotted this imbalance himself).

    But, at every single panel when someone recommended an artist or a writer it was always male. Even the lone woman recommended men.

    No one was doing this deliberately I’m sure, but I noticed it because of this current discussion.

    It leaves you with a feeling that women are just not contributing anything memorable to the scene… (which is not true).

  24. Suzette Haden Elgin: The Ozark Trilogy, the Coyote Jones books, the Native Tongue series. Wonderful books, and someone borrowed my Ozark Trilogy and never returned it.

    Sharon Webb
    C.L. Moore
    Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
    Jessica Amanda Salmonson
    Carol Emshwiller
    Kathrine Kurtz

    I’m not sure it makes very much difference to anyone, but I thought I might mention that over two thirds of the SF&F books that I buy in hard back because I can’t wait for the paperbacks are by women: Patricia Briggs (whose last book was full of fascinating Native American mythology), Anne Bishop, Kelley Armstrong, and to fess up to my guilty pleasures: Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton.

    (Ariana Franklin is also unbelievably wonderful, but not SF&F. She writes historical mystery novels with a powerful female protagonist)

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