Monday Original Content: On The Russ Pledge, by Joyce Chng (Singapore)

We Don’t Even Factor At All!

by Joyce Chng

Disclaimer: I am going to write this as catharsis, to get something off my chest. I have been watching the “Women in SF” debate juggernaut from the beginning, starting with the SF Signal Mind Meld right down to the Solaris Rising mess. Thoughts have been percolating in my head for a while, but I find myself hem-hawing, partly because the debate touches something raw inside me and I feel if I do speak up, I will end up ranting…

 Most of you would have known about the “Women in SF” debate currently ruffling many feathers in the SFF community. It started with the SF Signal Mind Meld (I am mentioned as well – thanks Lavie!) where many men commented about being “genderblind”. Of course, the comments went down in as well, to the dismay of many, including me. Before we could even catch a breather, the Solaris Rising anthology had everyone arguing again.

As some of you will know, I am from Singapore. I am a woman and I write SFF. When it comes to SFF in Singapore as a genre, you get crickets chirping. No doubt there are anthologies dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction, but the general reception of SFF in the literary scene has been chilly. For a start, there are people who write SFF here: Dave Chua and the Happy Smiley Writer’s Group, to name a few. We are trying to get SFF recognized as a legitimate genre. [Note: We have Han May who wrote Star Sapphire, a SF romance…].

Malaysia also boasts KS Augustin and Zen Cho. Women SFF writers, by the way.  Even the Philippines have a good group of women SFF writers like Eliza Victoria.

Why am I so angry still?

Because Southeast Asian women SFF authors (and others from non-English speaking countries, mind you!) do not factor in the overall debate. Not. At. All. We are “World SF”, but other than that – nadah. I hate to bring in the SFF publishing scene: we just don’t sell at all. The publishing industry has iron gates which we can’t even climb. The US and UK communities (because They Matter) will keep on supporting traditionally published authors (Big Publishers Win, yes?). But as for the rest of the world, we are not in the equation. Diversity is an ideal. The big-wigs spout promises about welcoming minority writers. Yet I don’t see it happening at all. Remember RaceFail? Remember? The iron gates are still there.

As I have read somewhere (and totally agree), we live in an imperfect world. In a perfect world, we do not care about race, gender, religion and geographical locations. Reality hurts: we do. The Russ Pledge is there to remind us to read books by women authors and writers. Women are writing. Women are still hitting a wall of institutional ignorance. Then factor in places like Southeast Asia – women authors become exotic, World SF… something extraordinary, like butterflies in amber, reduced to stereotypes and tropes.

Odd, because I grew up thinking that science fiction is universal, like Star Trek’s IDIC. The science fiction writing community is still a Western/Anglo old men’s club. Women are still stuck outside. POC women are not even invited in. We linger at the fringes, picking the scraps. It’s not just a matter of getting the usual condescending and patronizing “Sit down, calm yourself. Don’t be silly!”. Instead, we will be getting “Who are you? Are you a famous (Big Publishers Win) author? Oh, you are small press. Shut up.You don’t matter. We don’t care about you and your voice!”

My friends have told me that I just have to ignore them. Why do I give my energy to people who do not even care? Well, I think my friends are right. I keep working at my craft and find like-minded people. As for the “Women in SF” debate, I will keep on fighting…


19 thoughts on “Monday Original Content: On The Russ Pledge, by Joyce Chng (Singapore)

  1. Thanks Joyce, much to think about there. I’m not saying you’re wrong at all, but the debates I’ve seen online (which started long before SF Signal woke up to it,) have included major input from Women of Colour including Aliette de Bodard, Tracey Baptiste and more, and coverage/discussion of Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, etc. The will is there, in places, now to work on the knowledge.
    That’s not enough, I realise. I think I’m aware and open to writers of all kinds, then along you come and I realise none of the names you mentioned mean anything to me, so I’m not as aware as I think. Over on my blog I have been building a list of women SF writers, simple enough, just names, just a reminder that you’re out there. That list is just for SF because one issue is the erroneous claim that women rarely write SF they only write fantasy or romance. If you or anyone has time to comment with names I should add that would be great.
    There is another site, run by Ian Sales, that is looking for reviews of SF by women pre-2000.

    1. The thing about dismissing Joyce on the basis that “X, Y and Z are on the lists and they’re not white” is it’s always the same names, again as again, as the token diversity names. They’re also mostly living in the US or UK, with Aliette de Bodard as the main exception. While this is happening, the names of white US/UK writers in the same interviews, lists or discussions varies greatly.

      If people were really thinking about it, and really trying to change it, they wouldn’t need a reminder to include people from other countries on lists and in interviews. They’d find new names themselves, without being prompted. But they’re not thinking about it, and that’s why they need to be thwapped with a trout sometimes.

  2. In a perfect world, we do not care about race, gender, religion and geographical locations.

    I don’t know. Maybe thinking that in a perfect world, ‘not caring’ about identity — the idea that craft is separate from identity, where the ideal is only merit without considering where something comes from — is like chasing a mirage.

    Maybe a better way of putting it isn’t so much that we should be chasing “gender-blindness” or any other kind of “-blindness”, but making sure more people from more identities are heard.

    1. “Maybe a better way of putting it isn’t so much that we should be chasing “gender-blindness” or any other kind of “-blindness”, but making sure more people from more identities are heard.”


  3. Yes.

    I wish more women writers would detail their personal experiences of being kept outside the gate. “But…fewer women write SF!”

    No. Fewer women PUBLISH SF.

    And each additional layer of “otherness” (not-male, not-US, not-Anglo/white/Western…) adds another locked and guarded gate. Which most of the men inside (and the handful of women allowed in as tokens) don’t even see.

    Joyce, are any of your stories online? Or stories by the other writers you mention? I’d love to read them.

    1. Hi Judith.

      Yes, my stories are online. They can be found at Smashwords: and my own writery blog/website: A Wolf’s Tale –

      The Happy Smiley Writers’ Group has published two books:

      And collectively, Singaporean SFF writers have a website:

      I really wish that – as you have said – more women publish SFF.

    2. (I am listing stories which came to mind immediately; the writers I mention are much, much more prolific than I, and have other work out there also.)

      In addition to Joyce’s works, and the HSWG, which she’s mentioned, off-hand I think at once of several Malaysian SF/F women writing: Stephanie Lai (The Last Rickshaw), Jaymee ‘Jhameia’ Goh (Between Islands), and Zen Cho (《起狮,行礼》). In Singapore, other than Joyce, there is myself (Idris on the Job), Mint Kang (The Wedding Runner), and Sarah Coldheart and Joelyn Alexandra, and Samantha M. de Silva, whose works are in print but I cannot find any online links right now. And there are a lot of other people also, whom I interact with online across various platforms, SF/F-writing women from across archipelagic/maritime Southeast Asia.

      @Joyce: Is there a Singapore SF/F masterlist? (There should be! ;_;)

  4. Joyce is right, of course. As many in the community know, I am one of those Others who throng at the gates and get scraps (and kicks). I write SF/F works which have appeared in tiny venues because they don’t fit even perceived “exotic” moulds. Please understand, I’m not saying my work is award-worthy. However, it is frankly better than much crap that I see appear routinely.

    As I said elsewhere, we will have achieved true equality when enough pedestrian works by women and Others appears as frequently (and in venues that are as prestigious) as those of white Anglosaxon men.

    I wrote about my view of the Russ pledge, which can be summarized as: enough talk and recycled name lists; let’s see some concrete action in the domains of prestigious publications, editorships, reviewerships; as well as awards and canonizations in courses, anthologies and retrospectives.

    Why I Won’t Be Taking the Joanna Russ Pledge

  5. >We have Han May who wrote Star Sapphire, a SF romance…

    Any idea where I can get my hands on an English version of this book (that hopefully doesn’t break my bank)? I would love to feature it on my blog, where I cover science fiction romance ( in its many forms. I’d heard about the book some time ago from one of my blog readers, but I wasn’t able to jump on the ebay auction he alerted me about.

    >The publishing industry has iron gates which we can’t even climb.

    Right, and that prompts me to wonder, why bother trying? Let’s experiment with new strategies, like digging underneath or finding the unguarded back doors. Better yet, why not start to build a whole new complex (one without the iron gates) right across the street? There are new tools (the Web, social networking, ebooks) and new voices. Will it take time? Of course. Years. Decades. Maybe even a century, with some very complex passing-of-the-torches to each new generation. But it can be done.

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