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Wait, what did you say?

me
cassiphone talks more on the Realms of Fantasy special issue here. To be honest, I kinda lost interest in the entire discussion at the "girl writers" bit in the submissions guidelines so she makes a really good point on how the poor use of language and tone can get in the way of the spirit of your message.

I lost interest because, even if that was intended as a joke, the language says a lot to me about the underlying attitude. Why would you ever refer to professional female writers that way? I've been trying to wrap my head around whether the reverse would ever happen. Noone would ever refer to writers like Jeff Vandermeer or Cory Doctorow or China Mieville as "boy writers". There's even a more stark comparison in the guidelines themselves which asks "Gents" not to apply. Male writers = Gents; Female writers = girls. It's hard for me to get past, clarifications or no.

In fact, let's look at the clarification. A wise woman called Mr Cohen to explain to him why his language was offensive. And um, he opened his apology post with "It appears I have accidentally ruffled some feathers... ". You know, I don't even know where to start with that. Chooks? Hen houses? *shakes head*

Anyway, I've mostly lost interest with that aspect of the discussion.

I was reading this interview by Graham Sleight of Farrah Mendelsohn over at Omnivoracious about her new book On Joanna Russ. It's a really interesting interview. But check out this little snippet I found in the comments today:

What perpetuates the idea among men that women don't write SF is that too often they are content to write about feminism and being female. When female writers start applying their talents to writing on and about a wider palette, they are likely to find a broader interest. It would be interesting for example if more female science fiction writers seemed more interested in well, science for example, than they are in their own identity issues. So long as every discussion of female sci-fi writers in inherently a discussion of feminism, don't expect this to change.

The words that jumped out at me in this paragraph are "broader interest". What a piece of work is man! I am utterly fascinated by the arrogance of that statement, that because something is not directed at him, or resonates within him and draws on his own experience, it therefore (by definition!) is not broad or of broader interest. If 50% of the world is female, and it's not, it's more, then surely something that speaks to half the world, or addresses issues relating to half the world's population, can not be of narrow focus! And in fact, more women read than men, so surely then something that speaks to the greater populace and audience can hardly be accused of less than broad appeal? And what should women be writing about if not about being female? Should they write about ... being male? Because of course what this man *really* means is that he only wants stories that *he* can relate to. He doesn't want stories to challenge or push his own personal boundaries, perspective or viewpoint, he doesn't really want to explore ideas of other or outer or not-like-me. Frankly, I wonder why he reads science fiction at all. Or rather, what he is saying is that he wants science fiction to continue to be a subset of stories about white, middle class American men.

I'd get angry but ... I feel embarrassed for him. How boring and um ... narrow.

There's a really interesting sub-thread in jimhines' post on the topic of the Realms of Fantasy Special Issue, involving oldcharliebrown - here - oldcharliebrown explains that one off special issues with a bias towards female content can not affect the overall sales of a magazine. It makes sense when you think about it - magazines are not ordered on an issue to issue basis. They are ordered by distributors and sellers based on an overall performance. One particular issue might suddenly attract a greater number of readers because it suddenly appeals more broadly - say you do a female only issue and more women readers see it on the newstand and buy a copy based on the names on the front. But that will end up only being a blip on the overall year's sales. In other words, the way to increase your readership, or appeal more broadly to, say, female readers, is to change your overall editing approach and attitude and to follow this through consistently, appealling to a broader readership.


Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
nellievee45
Jan. 7th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
I find using the term 'girl' to describe an adult woman in any context to be patronising but particularly in professional situations. Unfortunately it happens far too often.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
Yep.
narrelle
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
I wonder how that commenter feels on John Varley's work, and the way he approached issues of identity and gender.
cassiphone
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:25 am (UTC)
Yes that comment on the Mendelsohn interview got to me too. Btw I have started the Russ book and it is AWESOME. She's a fascinating figure - I'm up to the chapter about the reviews she did in F&SF and WOW she was so very harsh. :D I'm normally not interested in overly negative reviews, but her criticisms are scathing works of art.

And the apology from Doug made it clear that he still didn't get it. He honestly didn't get the difference between 'gents' and the 'girls only,' 'ladies' comments. The difference being that he is a man, and there are some terms that just come off as less okay when a man says them.

He at least has shown he is capable of learning when he has offended and apologising when he doesn't even get why women are upset. That's a kind of important step, and does at least show respect if not, you know, actual understanding.

girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:22 am (UTC)
Ok, this made me go get my own copy of the book! Looking forward to reading it.

And the apology from Doug made it clear that he still didn't get it. He honestly didn't get the difference between 'gents' and the 'girls only,' 'ladies' comments. The difference being that he is a man, and there are some terms that just come off as less okay when a man says them.

Yes, made me sad. Also the number of men who have told me offline that I overreacted on the apology. Which you know ... is also the bit about not quite getting it.

He at least has shown he is capable of learning when he has offended and apologising when he doesn't even get why women are upset. That's a kind of important step, and does at least show respect if not, you know, actual understanding.

I guess.

(Anonymous)
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:29 am (UTC)
This reminds me of the scarcity of male bloggers:

http://geekfeminism.org/2009/08/19/where-are-all-the-men-bloggers/
narrelle
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:31 am (UTC)
As I recall, there is a comment on that posting from someone who didn't get the joke.
bibliofilen
Jan. 7th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
It was a thing of beauty. :-D
bibliofilen
Jan. 7th, 2010 10:30 am (UTC)
That was me! Sorry.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Every time I post a blog entry I ponder the sad lack of male bloggers.

I was astonished by the tone of the Realms guidelines. Ann and I would never have used terms like "girls" or "ladies" for antho guidelines. I even asked Ann, "if you were editing an antho solo and it was only open to women writers, would you jokingly use the term 'girls' or 'us gals'?" As I thought, the answer was "Hell no--it's not professional."

Meanwhile, it seems to me Realms would solve a few of its problems by having fiction editor Shawna McCarthy do more of the public stuff for Realms, because while I know from personal experience Cohen is a good managing editor...he sucks as the public face of the mag.
JeffV
PS Awesome post.
cassiphone
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
"Hell no--it's not professional."

That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?
girliejones
Jan. 7th, 2010 12:50 pm (UTC)
And frankly, I think joke submission guidelines of any kind are not professional.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
Looks like the fiction editor is moving further into the limelight, which is a good thing.

Thanks :)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 7th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC)
On a tangent but still related--The thing that really pisses me off is even though Ann's won a freakin' Hugo, you would not believe the number of idiots who still either list our anthos as edited by "Jeff and Ann VanderMeer" or by "Jeff VanderMeer". Totally wrong. Not to mention, Ann usually does more than 50% of the work on anything we do. In part, it's an issue of visibility, perhaps--if Ann blogged, some of that might go away--but it's still not acceptable, and a large part of it is sexism in my opinion. And it doesn't always come from the sources you'd expect--female bloggers/reviewers do it almost as much as males. - JeffV
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:18 am (UTC)
People do that a lot and I don't know if it's always necessarily a gender issue. I've had so much trouble (and embrassment) with the credits for two of my own projects this last year - with people getting the coeditors mixed up or dropping off names. One particular announcement was flung far and wide across the internets completely muddled and wrong. People seem so casual about book credits, not caring to double check and just repeating what they think.
hawkeye7
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
If 50% of the world is female, and it's not, it's more,
No, it is not!!! World-wide, there are roughly 1.05 boys born for every girl, and this translates to 1.01 males per female world wide. So in fact 50% of the world population is female, due to rounding, but it's actually slightly less, and not the majority.
girliejones
Jan. 8th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
Ah, so that makes it ok. Sorry. /sarcasm

Interestingly, that's not the ratio in Australia nor USA: http://www.geohive.com/earth/pop_gender.aspx

Edited at 2010-01-08 02:21 am (UTC)
tablesaw
Jan. 12th, 2010 08:52 pm (UTC)
lilacsigil
Jan. 14th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
Yes, approximately 1.05 boys are born for every girl (more in some countries due to female infanticide). Then more boys die, more women live longer, and older women outnumber older men in most countries. This is changing due to massive rates of female infanticide in China and India, in particular, but currently, there's still more women than men in the world.
deborahb
Jan. 8th, 2010 07:16 am (UTC)
I remember coming across something awful while studying the history of psych at uni: when word association tests were introduced to psychology, it was discovered that women used words most related to the home and housework, rather than words relating to "the wider world". This discovery was used to make the assertion that "women lacked character" -- rather than the assertion that "women lacked the opportunity for 'broader' experiences".

Same with the whole racial interpretations of the IQ tests given to US soldiers during Vietnam. The lower scores of black soldiers proved black people were incapable of being educated. RATHER THAN the idea that black people were denied places in schools, denied access to materials for study/homework, etc.

The use of evidence to support pre-existing theories, eh?


-----
* Where 'character' was a measure of moral standing, not a measure of personality or comic stand-up, or any other modern interpretation of character.
gauroth
Jan. 9th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
Interesting that if women use words most related to the home and housework they therefore 'lack character.' That may indicate that "women lacked the opportunity for 'broader' experiences"; and/or it may mean that the experiences and talents of women are not valued, because the ways that women approach life are complementary to, but not the same as, men's (and can be dismissed as 'merely' relating to home and family - as if that job isn't as important or skillfull as running a business).

I'd also be interested to know who wrote those psychology tests, what their assumptions were, who judged them, and in what contexts they were applied. My Old Man was involved in writing questionnaires for young people on training courses, and the setting of questions to be fair and impartial is a very complex skill.

Btw, I'm here via aqueduct_amble
deborahb
Jan. 9th, 2010 07:28 am (UTC)
If I find my essay on 'the history of character in psychology', I'll let you know where the claims came from.

>the setting of questions to be fair and impartial is a very complex skill<

Yes. People often underestimate it. People think because they can answer a questionnaire, they can write on. Kinda like writing books. ;)
gauroth
Jan. 10th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you. That would be fascinating, if it's not too much trouble! And I absolutely agree with you about writing books, too!
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
That may indicate that "women lacked the opportunity for 'broader' experiences"; and/or it may mean that the experiences and talents of women are not valued, because the ways that women approach life are complementary to, but not the same as, men's (and can be dismissed as 'merely' relating to home and family - as if that job isn't as important or skillfull as running a business).

This reminds me of one of the stories I read in Larbalestier's Daughters of the Earth which featured a story that men at the time flipped off as "diaper fiction" because it was a post apocalyptic future but focussed on the women and children and what life would be life for them. I kind of want to know in futuristic worlds what day to day life will be like. I'm (morbidly) fascinated with the idea that men would consider that "small" because its not focussed on the "big" ideas about the future when really, truthfully, those sort of ideas lack detail and specifics.
cassiphone
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:03 am (UTC)
What interests me is that Joanna Russ was herself very scathing of domestic science fiction, and of contaminating science fiction with that messy, pointless characterisation stuff.

While at the same time writing brilliant, groundbreaking feminist fiction, much of it about "domestic" or women's concerns, peopled with awesome characters.

Sneaky, huh?

At the same time she very much considered herself (according to her writings in the 70's at least) a writer who had made herself "write as a man" and drew a line between those women writers whom she also believed had effectively had to turn themselves into "male" writers in order to produce work that would be accepted as science fiction, and other female writers (Kate Wilhelm was one example) who still "wrote as women" and yet managed somehow to be published (and whom she much admired for doing so).

I'm not sure yet why it is that she believed/said her writing was masculine (I am sure I wouldn't like it so much if it really was) but I have only scraped the surface of her writings so far, both fiction and her writing about writing. It's FASCINATING STUFF.

(and yes I know I keep talking about her in the past tense, I feel ucomfortable with that as she is very much alive, but at the same time most of her statements were made in the 70's-80's and I don't want to go so far as saying she *does* still believe certain things that she said twenty years ago...)
linkspam_mod
Jan. 12th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
This post has been added to a linkspam round up.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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