The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Gender debate

Over at Rebellious Jezebel, blogger Jha takes Nuno Fonseca (for his editorial here this week) and Luis Filipe Silva (for his response) to task on their treatment of gender, saying in part:

Well, yes, of course arguing the lack of representation in spec fic is a goddamn personal thing. Fuck the male privilege horse you rode in on, because this isn’t an intellectual exercise; issues of representation are serious and personal, because when we read stories, we would like to find some stories that represent us. There are the narrow few perspectives which are overrepresented compared to many other minority perspectives. The fact that you can even pretend that these attitudes don’t exist anymore or are so 1950’s is a sign of privilege, because even while overt racism is rare, what makes you think you don’t subconsciously hold racist attitudes?

And,

These benefits of colonization he’s talking about…. where to start? Speaking English isn’t a benefit, it’s a necessity. Are minority writers always read? They may read but they may not get fair opportunity to be read. And if debates were really that easy to engage internationally – no wait, never mind, because they’re not, taking into account different cultural environments and contexts, which cause people to talk past each other and not necessarily be on the same page as is going on here in this very post.

And I like the number 8. So I will add an 8th point: the rest of their points ring true – it IS difficult non-English spec fic to flourish outside their linguistic contexts. We do face prejudice on whether our books will be picked up or not. Genrecan be a difficult market, what with varying tastes and diverse opinions on what it really should be like bouncing around. Yes, it can get better, but it can’t get better with folks trading on stereotypes and sweeping assumptions like the ones I’ve pointed out above to make their points.

While over in the UK, the gender debate continues with fjm’s Open letter to fans, authors and critics of the male sex:

Women, last time I looked, made up more than 50% of the population. We aren’t quite there in terms of fandom and authordom, but we’ve been past 35% for decades now.

So: the next time you are asked to be on a panel, or part of a discussion, or an anthology, and not a single woman is included, I suggest that it is not enough to shrug and say “well, I didn’t issue the invitations”. Question it. If the answer is “there wasn’t room” consider making a sacrifice.

Furthermore, if you are asked to talk about the state of the field, it is also your responsibility to think before you go ahead and give a list of “the best” science fiction writers with not a single woman on the list [and if you seriously think there isn’t a single woman on that list you aren’t doing the right reading].

I am really tired of hearing men discuss the field as if there are no women writers. There have always been women sf writers (see the research of myself, Merrick, Larbalastier and Davin). There is not a single decade of sf in the twentieth century in which there were no women writers.

I wish I could say that I am directing this at at some other men, men I don’t know, men who I don’t regard as my friends. But I’m not. I’ve seen almost every man I respect cheerfuly take his place on an all male panel, or reel off a list the best writers which is mysteriously free of women.

I am very tired of this. I will keep pointing it out, every time I see it.

Conventions and panels seem to be an enormous part of the US – and to an extent the UK – world of fandom – a series of social events that seem to play a central role in at least some identities of genre. I find them interesting enough to try and write something more in-depth in the future about it – including the inaccessibility of “world” writers to that social/business network, and whether it should even matter – but I think in the meantime it’s worth highlighting fjm’s concerns. It should be noted that, at least from anecdotal evidence (as you can guess, I don’t really have access to any conventions!) “world” sf writers – particularly of a different shade – tend to end up in the “Others” panel. If I recall, Anil Menon told me he met Vandana Singh at “a panel about the Other”. What IS the other? dark-skinned? Or simply non-North American? I don’t know enough about panels and convention programming to comment… perhaps you could.

And finally, also in the UK, Liz Williams elaborates on fjm’s comments:

OK, here comes massive unpopularity, but I’m a bit tired of maintaining a unified front when there seems to me to be precious little unity behind the lines. fjm has posted a (perfectly reasonable) open letter asking that male fans, critics and so on think first when they compile lists, TOC etc for SF, because the women still get left out. This is fair enough. Sexism is still alive and well, and let’s kick its sorry butt, but I would like to add something.

The last panel I did in the UK was with Pat Cadigan and Jaine Fenn at the Sf film fest in London, and it was about being women writers in a male dominated world. The message that, thank God, Pat got out in the first 5 minutes was how bored we are about constantly being stuck on panels where we talk about Our Struggle. Instead, IIRC, we talked about books we liked. I have done this ‘women’ panel in various forms about 5 times now and thank you, Judith, for not making me do another one at Eastercon. Pat and I are not 20 somethings who think feminists all wear dungarees: I hope Pat will correct me if I am wrong, but we both regard ourselves as feminists and in my case, a lot of my views come out of 1970s feminist theory.

Why is it still all about What the Guys Think? Some moron comes out with some reactionary statement on a blog no one reads and we all run about like there’s a fox in the henhouse (derogatory metaphor is intentional). Why invest them with a power that they don’t really have any more? I’m not that interested in what doesn’t get said on Radio 4 – I’ve done a lot of BBC interviews, they’re always cut to hell and you could bang on about female SF for hours and still end up with a 20 second sound bite about rocket ships.

Much more in all those links, and large comment threads though, as always, we’d love to hear your comments here, too.

December 29, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. I get tetchy very easily. However, it’s been going on for so long, it doesn’t feel like a debate, more like an ongoing fight, to be heard and taken into consideration. The context isn’t just in SF, either, e.g. politics, open source, and, really, just everywhere else in the real world. Wrt race, it’s not just SF, either.

    Comment by Jha | December 30, 2009


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