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…