Once again about sexism in Science Fiction

It’s been a while since I wrote this post where I encountered blatant sexism, and today, Sean (@Seandblognaut) alerted me on Twitter about the existence of this post from inside the publishing world.

Written by Tor UK editor Julie Crisp, it is exactly the sort of stuff I wanted to hear from the industry. To take a few excerpts:

In the last few years I have seen numerous articles deploring the lack of female SFF writers, in science fiction in particular. And usually, the blame always comes back to the publisher’s doorstep. Every time I’ve seen one of these articles I get a little hot under the collar because, guess what? I work in publishing. I work in genre. And here’s the kicker – I’m a woman. Yes, a female editor commissioning and actively looking for good genre – male AND female.

And

The sad fact is, we can’t publish what we’re not submitted.

She goes on to quote that only 22% of science fiction submissions they receive are from women. This has been my (admittedly very limited) experience in the ASIM slush as well: that there is a distinct disparity in the submissions.

That said, the incident was inexcusable, no matter how much I was supposed to have “prompted” it. The proper reply that should have been given to my question was what Julie wrote. End of story. Thanks, Julie, for writing it.

Do I believe that pockets of blatant sexism exist in publishing? Hell, yes.

Do I believe that the majority of the publishing industry is at least attempting to be even-handed? Yes, I do. But that will not stop me speaking out when I encounter sexism as blatant as I encountered.

In any case, while I’m angry on behalf of women in general, it’s no skin off my personal nose. I am enjoying my self-publishing journey more and more every day, and getting more rewarded for it every day, too. Ticonderoga Publications is working on edits for my novel. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, the cliché goes, and I’ll survive well without a deal from a “big six” publisher.

SFWA and me: why I’ve renewed my membership

I wasn’t going to say anything about the SFWA Bulletin sexism issue. Many other people have already said plenty of stuff, and said it better (or maybe just earlier) than I could. However, in the midst of the breaking waves of the scandal, my renewal notice arrived.

Up until the scandal, I wasn’t going to renew. I have found the organisation ridiculously behind in the matter of self-publishing, which is where I get most of my writing income, and in general not very relevant to me as a non-US writer. If I could actually go to the cons and Nebula weekend, it would be different, but (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’ve come to realise that I’m not a great fan of travel and would probably only make the effort of going if there was a strong reason for doing so.

And then there is the forum, which is something very special indeed (not in a good way).

But.

I decided to renew, and give them one more chance to become better and more relevant. Surely the scandal will not just ruffle, but pull out some feathers (it already has, by the way, not sure how much of it is public). Surely something good will come out of it. Or maybe I’m too naïve about it, but…

1. Our genre needs and deserves a decent professional organisation, dammit. Since there are no viable alternatives, THIS IS IT.

2. The whole thing is appalling. Not so much that mistakes were made initially, but in the way those mistakes were allowed to compound. If someone is offended, you do not go and tell them that they have no right to be offended, or “it’s not so bad”, even if YOU are not PERSONALLY offended, or if you don’t get why people are offended. It’s a professional organisation, and we expect a professional standard of conduct. This is not it.

3. I’m equally appalled by the level of name-calling in many of the complaints. Sorry, but if you call people “old fogeys” or “dinosaurs” how the hell can you expect them to not get defensive and not want to engage in further discussion, or worse, dig in even deeper. That is also not professional conduct. Surely there are ways in which we can let people know that something they’re doing is not OK without disparaging their entire personalities.

4. Similarly, many people have prefaced their reactions with “I’m not a member, but…” and have gone on to paint the entire organisation as sexist. Well, since they’re not members, what do they actually know of what many dedicated volunteers do behind the scenes? Many of whom are women. And are outraged.

5. The only reason everyone knows about this is because MEMBERS were upset and started to blog about it. Most members are furious. Members want change. I’ve voted with my credit card to be one of those members for at least one more year. I *want* there to be a good SF/F organisation.

All I ask is that people respect other people. That is what I expect in a professional organisation. I accept that at times, respect will be broken by private individuals and they can rant on their own blogs for all they like, but I expect an organisation not to drop its guard.

I have renewed because I’m curious to see what will rise out of this mess, and I’m willing to hope that it’s something good.

There are girl cooties on my space ship–on women writing hard SF

reentryAnyone who knows me even passingly will know that I dislike pulling gender into a discussion at the first available opportunity. I don’t “do” gender-related panels, and I don’t favour pushing women’s work for the sake that it’s done by women. We have a number of really awesome female science fiction writers. My most favourite-ever writer, C.J. Cherryh, is a woman, and so is Lois McMaster Bujold, another one of my favourites. Kim Stanley Robinson, another one of my favourite writers, is a man, and so is Stephen Baxter. I like their subject matter and that’s why I like those writers. This is how I tick.

I also get weary of people blaming their lack of success too easily on external factors. Having success is a matter of luck and talent–but mostly luck, and persistence–before being a function of anything else. I believe that quietly chipping away and engaging with the community is more valuable than agitating out loud, because I don’t believe there is anything to be gained by being accusatory to people you should try to engage in discussion instead.

In short, I really dislike playing the gender card, but when someone chucks a whole packet of cards in my face, it becomes harder to ignore.

OK, something happened and I’ll be really brief about it. The discussion went like this:

Me: I heard you are interested in hard SF
Publisher: yeah, we are, but… *looks uneasy*
Me: … if it’s written by a woman?
Publisher: yeah, I hate to say that, but yeah, that is a problem

This is paraphrased to the best of my memory.

I’ve thought for a few days what I want to do with this. As is common with me and things like this, anger tends to be slow to build, but after a few days I’m still angry and I’m getting more angry. I mean-what fucking rot. Where is the data to back this up? OK, maybe the publisher had some bad runs with women SF writers, but if a male SF writer has a bad run, it’s tough luck, and if a woman does the same, it’s because she’s a woman?

Understand that I didn’t send anything to this publisher, so there was no particular manuscript involved. I was fishing for potential places to send some work, notably Shifting Reality which is hard SF with character. The publisher stated a work must not be self-published, and I’m fine with that. I’m working on a next book anyway. We weren’t talking about any book in detail and I had not even mentioned any potential projects other than that they were hard SF.

This is what infuriated me. Even before I get to talking about the story and the concept, I’m dismissed out of hand because I’m a woman. Can someone tell me how many sales to Analog a woman needs to be considered “good enough” for writing hard SF? I have two. Do I qualify? Bullshit.

Of course, it was a daft thing for him to say. He should have said something like “Sure, submit it, and we’ll take it from there” or “hard SF is a tough sell now, but send it anyway”, that is, if he was truly interested in hard SF.

As I said above, I’m of the “quietly doing”, and not “yelling” type, so let’s see what constructive thoughts we can take away from this.

First of all, I’m not going to say who it was, because I think it’s counterproductive. There have been some calls for names, so that people can boycott this publisher. Please, don’t. There is no point. If you *really* want to know, it’s an ill-kept secret, and a bit of reading of recent posts and some google-fu will no doubt give you a good idea. It’s not about who, because this attitude is endemic in publishers.

Ironically, I’ve found that although it’s much-mocked by people, Analog is extremely accepting of all writers. The Analog people (writers, editors and readers) are very supportive of each other. I believe that what gets published in Analog is a fairly close reflection of percentages men vs women they see in the slush. Analog’s brand of hard SF will appeal to more men than women. I’m fine with that.

It is a reality of the market that hard SF as currently marketed is geared towards men. That said, I know a number of women, including myself, who are much more interested in a book with a dark-blue-hued cover with a planet on it than a pink-hued cover and a long-haired girl and some guy. Elizabeth Moon writes books with dark blue covers with space ships on them. Women as well as men read this stuff.

Why would any publisher automatically dismiss the women readers and market only at men? Apparently, men don’t read female authors. I’m a bit doubtful about this statement, especially in the population from my age down, who are quickly overtaking the market. In my experience, men don’t read much full stop, or at least on average not as much as women. Apparently 75% of readers are women, and let’s say for the sake of the argument that out of the 25% of male readers half don’t read women. Are these people justifying discrimination based on 12.5% of readers? Really? Of course hard SF appeals disproportionately to men, but still, let’s deconstruct this a bit further, because how does hard SF get marketed?

A strong segment of hard SF is still stuck in the Golden Age sentiments. As far as I’ve been able to wade through the sexist and racist attitudes of “Golden Age” science fiction, a lot of it is hard SF as much as Star Wars is hard SF (in other words: it’s not hard SF). This kind of fiction appeals to an ever-diminishing audience, yet the industry clings to it.

The vast majority of younger readers, male and female, does not accept the sexist attitudes anymore, whether in the editorial team or in the book. Hard SF is much more than space-based SF, but I cannot see the need for even space-based SF to be marketed in such a retro way. There are many younger readers out there who do not want their SF with sauce of sexist golden age nostalgia.

There is no need to *call* a book hard SF, even if it is. Most books can fit into multiple subgenres. Hard SF and space opera bleed into each other anyway. Books are about people and the perception that hard SF is only about tech and not about character is rubbish.

A book that doesn’t sell fails to reach the right audience, never mind the gender. How about we stop trying to push books to the same old, same old group who supposedly don’t read women, and try to engage a general audience? In other words, pull the space ship that is hard SF into the garage and give it an overhaul. Get rid of the retro shit. There is certainly none in any of my books.

I strongly believe that if you want to sell a broader range of hard SF you need to step outside the current narrow audience with the narrow marketing messages.

These are things I would like:

– If you have any hard sales data on hard SF by men vs women, I’m all ears. I’m not talking about anecdotal stuff, but hard sales.
– Hard SF is not “boys playing with space ships” and need not be marketed that way
– I am open to discussion by anyone
– I had never thought that this was a good reason for me to feel good about having self-published. Hey, the book is making ME money

Instead of pointing fingers and crying, “sexist”, I want to write damn good fiction and prove people like the above publisher wrong. Meanwhile, if you read hard SF, I love you. None of all the people I know fall into that will-read-men-only category, so I have no idea where these people are. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go and re-read book 14 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh. Yes, a woman.



Patty writes hard Science Fiction, space opera and fantasy. Her latest book is Trader’s Honour, in the space opera series The Return of the Aghyrians. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with new releases, remember to sign up for Patty’s new release newsletter.