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a moment of burnt hat

I call myself out

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I call myself out

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I'm starting to feel crazy about this whole women in SF thing. 

See, last year when Liz de Jager--an uninvolved bystander to SF--pointed out to me that there had been only one female Clarke Award winner in the previous ten years, I found myself scrambling for an explanation.  How to explain why is SF so male-dominated?  Because I just took that for granted as a feature of the environment.  LIz's immediate instinct was to blame the award, but when we took a look we found that not ony had the Clarke had a pretty good track record in its earlier years, but that there weren't many SF books by female writers being published and therefore up for consideration.  And this exposed a dip in the number of women publishing SF.  Well, not so much a dip as a near-extinction at novel length with major houses.  Jaine Fenn is under contract.  Lauren Beukes is certain to be offered a deal for her next book.  That' it.

So a big conversation ensued on Torque Control.  And I started thinking about the issue seriously for the first time.  I began to think maybe I shouldn't give up on SF (as I had been intending to do) because perhaps people really did care about the narrowing of the genre in Britain.

Now this thing is all over the place.  Hot topic.  On Nicola Griffith's blog and later on SF Signal a simple request to read and discuss more women writers turned into what NK Jemisin so hilariously described as: "OMG YOUS WIMMINS ARE OPPRESHING ME QUOTAS GULAGS MEN REDUCED TO NEKKID CASTRATED SLAVES WOMEN PLAYING FOOTBALL CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER THE END OF THE WORLD!!!1!"

Ian Whates recently published the TOC of the new Solaris Rising anthology.  I'm in it, and the other women are Jaine Fenn, Pat Cadigan, and Laurie Tom.  The ratio of women:men is weak and this has brought down a shitstorm on Solaris in general and Ian in particular. 

Ian is an extremely hard-working editor, writer, and publisher and has put his money where his mouth is when it comes to supporting women writers. He funded and published an all-female SFF anthology several years ago.  The title, Myth-Understandings, seems to have come through his efforts to unify a diverse collection of stories; it's divided into two parts, of which the second is more SFnal.  My recollection is that at the time there was some flak on the internet about men not being allowed to submit. 

At first when a storm developed around the new anthology, I didn't know the history of female representation in the Solaris books (it sucks). Looking at it I think Ian might have been better prepared for the angry response to the TOC.  It seems like it took him by surprise.  But not everybody reads the internet all day.  Every time I'm in touch with Ian he's buried in work.  And that's the point about Ian.  He doesn't go on the internet and talk about things.  He rolls up his sleeves and gets in there.  I know he is aware of the discussion on women in SF and I know he's keen to change it.  I consider him an ally.  But I don't think he's fluent in the art of internet debate. In fact, it's painful to watch what's happening for that reason alone.  The attacks that have come down against him as the representatiave of Solaris are really ugly.

I'm hard-pressed to imagine another UK anthologist who could have done better than Ian Whates with this book.  Ian is proactive when it comes to women writers.  He goes out of his way.  (That's one reason I made certain I got my story in, even though it was a real stretch for me with my current schedule.)  Now, in the current climate it may be judged (particularly by USian standards) that he is not proactive enough.  OK.  This then begs the question, how proactive is enough?  To what lengths should anthology editors be going?

And very soon we are talking about quotas.  I'm uneasy about this.  I am in favour of discussion, examination, and the routing out of the ASTONISHING BULLSHIT that still goes on with respect to women and science fiction. I am in favour of supporting and encouraging more women to write SF and also of promoting SF to women readers.  I'm not in favour of establishing quotas, although if male writers want to question anthologists and publishers about what they are doing in terms of representation, if prominent male authors want to put a spotlight on this issue, I think that would be great.  Editors who have that pair of eyes in the room watching them (you know those experiments I'm talking about, right? with the eyes?  it's really weird) may be more conscientious and willing to go the extra mile.

But is it OK to tar and feather editors for their failures to recruit enough women for anthologies?  It may seem like an acceptable tactic when you don't know the editor in question.  When you do, and when you know that person has good intentions and is making the best of a difficult publishing climate, then it's horrible to see these attacks.  I feel complicit. 

Yes, we all need to be called out on our shit from time to time.  Me, too.  So here I am, calling myself out.  I want to see change but I don't want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society--and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain.  I don't think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs.  I've worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them.  Do we live in a sexist culture?  Yes, absolutely.  Fucking yes.

Because of this and for other reasons it seems to be impossible to precisely identify the problem in SF in this country.  I've said again and again in personal conversation that I believe it is systemic.  I don't think it's merely a case of mistakenly attacking the branches instead of the root of the problem (as I've seen the attacks on Ian described) because it's not a rooted sort of problem.  I suspect the whole ecological cycle is messed up and I doubt there is any one action or plane of action that will ameliorate it.  As I said to Juliet McKenna at the AGM: the whole is dumber than the sum of its parts. And I think it would be good to address this on all levels but perhaps only in small ways in some situations because sometimes that is all you can do for the moment.  The main thing is to keep it going and move it forward.  The scene didn't get like this in a day and it's not going to be fixed in sweeping strokes.

Also we need to recognise that we are in a teacup here.  We are a small community and we're in this together.  Nicola Griffith mentioned the idea of a fighty family in one of her posts.  This strikes me as key.  It's one thing to squabble and challenge one another.  But it's also important to fight fair and to give one another room to maneuver, to change our minds, to have another look, to take a positive step. 

I'm trying not to sound sanctimonious when I say this.  Hope I got there.
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