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The argument ... in pieces

I probably should have waited till I had all the bits of the maths in my hands and not said anything in advance. My intention is not to sit and point at men and say how much they suck and how sexist they are. Or how sexist male editors are - that's not remotely interesting to me as an argument. A lot of my closest friends are male editors (heh) and it's not the point, you know? I don't think male editors look at names and dismiss female authors. I don't think they set out to only like stories written by men. That's a boring position in the argument to take.

I blogged my comments earlier because I was looking at the big name overseas markets, many of which struggle to hit 25% female authorship across a bunch of issues in a single year. I was depressed because that's not a lot of places for female writers to be competing with and doesn't leave many spots for new female writers to break in. For new voices to be heard.

My argument was going to be more looking at the business model. Taking into consideration the drop in circulation of the top mags, I thought I would look into various stats. Here's the thing, they struggle to publish women. It's possible that then, they also struggle to appeal to female readers. If you look at the last two publishing phenonemona that swept the world - JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyers - the one thing you can't deny --> they sell. The other thing you'll note is that women read. Two somewhat important factors, I would think, when looking at markets. If it were me, I'd want to look into why those sold and how I can get a piece of the action.

What's interesting to me is that the female audience is never ever (at least publicly) considered. It's not even allowed to be openly discussed without defensive males (editors) jumping up and down and telling you it's not a problem. But what if it IS? What if declining readership could be correlated to declining or low numbers of stories appealing to female readers? Why wouldn't you look at your product and see what market you want or could target it to?

It seems to me, that female writers tend to write female stories - not always, and not necessarily overtly or through only using female protagonists. But ... can men really argue that they write so well that they can write *for* women and thus we don't need to give voice and page space to them in order to hear what they have to say? For me, it's not about needing gender equality in ToCs to show that we're all fair and equal or that sexism is dead. It's actually about there being products out there that appeal to ME, that are made with ME in mind and that give voice to issues and concerns that affect ME. And I don't think you can effectively argue that magazine and anthology after magazine and anthology that only print stories written by white men can do that.

You might not care. You might not want to produce that kind of product. And I don't have to pay for products like that. But the thing is? When I look around at what I have actually handed cash over for lately? It's novels written by women. I used to subscribe to several mags - online and print. And I used to hunt others down in the newsagent. But the truth is, they bored me and they felt like a waste of money for me because I am clearly not the target audience. So when you talk about declining circulations and you wonder why, why not ask around and why not take notice of the answers? Because I am included in many of those stats for readers taking their money elsewhere.


Jan. 12th, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)
Hmm. Well while I agree that leaving 50% of the possible audience feeling like this is not for them doesn't make best use of the commercial space, there is one basic flaw in your argument: we've been looking at declining circulation over tha last 50 years -- at the same time as we have seen slowly increasing numbers of female writers. Now, as more than half of my 20 favourite authors are female, I can't say I believe that the sex of the writer makes any real difference as to whether they can write well. Which leaves me to conclude that declining circulation is neither the fault of there being more female writers nor because women don't connect to males on the TOC. They're purely spurious correlations, and there are other reasons for decline. The other possible conclusion is that increasing the female part of the TOC has failed to capture a new female audience and alienated part of the male audience. That's possible. There are males whose masculinity is so fragile they're scared of girl cooties, just as there are women who believe male = eeeevil (and stupid and nasty and out to exploit them). But I suspect these are 10% loony fringe on either extreme, and that short fiction is selling less for other reasons.

On the hand it would be great to see genre fiction making the best possible use of the possible commercial space by appealing both to males and females - just as it would be great to see pollution and the consumption of resources reduced. Naturally, for the latter, the countries of the world have looked to the leading consumers and polluters to lead by example. Small countries get very peeved when they make efforts and get told they ought to do more, while the big ones aren't - especially when it's people from big ones telling them they ought to do more. The big one in genre fiction is, of course, romance - more than twice the size of any other. Its readership is 90% female, its editors and writers are almost entirely female. If 10% of their readers are already male(RWA figures:-))isn't it time that those who want to see a more equal TOC in sf/fantasy pressured them to lead by example? Surely they could at least move to 10% male authors and editors? If there was some effort there, women writers would be in a morally stronger position to say the writers and editors of other genres need to attract more women writers and readers. I'd like to see that - but I'd like to see the big one open up. I'd like to be able to submit under my own name. As it is, it sounds like 'we have 52% of the cake. Now we want at least 50% of the rest.'

I've got a few romance proposals. Send editors bearing cheques. :-)
Jan. 12th, 2009 11:30 am (UTC)
The lack of male representation in the romance genre is an interesting one, but it's a whole separate issue. Are you really suggesting that women writers universally need to *earn* the moral right to complain about their representation in the science fiction field by letting men into romance?

I'm hoping this post is at least partly intended as ironic, considering that it doesn't acknowledge the fact that a) writers do not control who do and do not get published in any one field b) for the most part, romance writers and science fiction writers are different people, and this tit for tat idea is either insulting, downright illogical or both... There is simply no connection.

Some effort? Really? You point to one of the few areas in publishing that is female dominated and suggest that women should give up that field in order to earn a place in a different one?

I'm all for male romance, I think it's a great idea. The male POV in romance novels is something I enjoy, and I think breaking down expectations and gender barriers is fantastic. But I don't think it's appropriate to suggest any kind of trade is in order here, or that women in any way have a morally weak position in this particular argument.

It really gnaws that me that any intelligent, educated person could suggest with a straight face that women should give something up before they can expect better treatment than they currently receive.

Whenever the subject of the disparity of female authors in science fiction is raised, the consensus almost always comes down to blaming the women writers - whether it is for writing what the editors do not want, for not writing or submitting enough, or for expecting some kind of free ride to get their substandard work published at the expense of a superior male writer. This is the first time I've seen it suggested that female writers of an entirely different genre may hold some responsibility for the matter!
Jan. 12th, 2009 12:23 pm (UTC)
chill :-). All I said was that maybe campaigners for equal access to sf/fantasy -- many of whom also write romance -- need to look at a genre that 1)is biggest 2)is the least equal. I would say the same thing if it 100% male -only a lot more forcibly and often. I don't want _anyone_ to 'give up' anything. I want to grow the pie rather than just re-divide it. The entire thrust of the girlie jones original post was that this was unused commercial space. It's as much unused space in romance as sf. There is a great deal of crossover. Some men will read books by women and some women books by men. Everyone wins.

Let me give you an idea you probably have never thought of: assume that editors in sf/fantasy all go to a precise 50:50 quota - and so on with the other minor genres. Do the maths - do you want it said that more than 75% of all fiction is written by women?(because that's what it would be) If the boot was on the other foot I'd be campaigning really hard to get women writers involved and published. I've heard -- and supported -- calls for more sf, fantasy and horror by women writers. Thinking about it, some of the loudest voices write fantasy-romance. I think your comment at the beginning of your post is first time I've ever had a female acknowlege that it would be a good idea to have male written romance too.

If I turned to you and said sf should stay all male because Romance is all female you'd have some right to burned (and not only because that would be stupid). But if you read what I'm saying is as a male I'd like to see more female writers - because I want as many points of view and wide a readership as possible. I would expect female writers to be saying the same (but opposite) in areas they dominate. I've yet to see anyone suggest this. Perhaps it just hasn't occured to anyone. That I think was true of many male writers twenty years back.
Jan. 12th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
I think the whole men in romance parallel is fascinating and definitely something worth discussing. I've used a similar example elsewhere looking at the female domination of the YA field to the point where books by male authors aimed at teenage boys are rare, precious things.

All of these issues are important but while each of the groups can learn together (and as you say, there is some overlap), I don't think it's feasible to suggest that in any way they can affect each other.

It's not enough for me as a reader that romance is such a female-friendly area. I barely read the genre at all. I am primarily a reader of science fiction and fantasy. I like romance subplots but almost never find stories that are all romance to be particularly satisfying.

Sorry if my last comment seemed heated, but however interesting a parallel the men in romance topic is, it feels like a distraction from the issue actually under discussion here. The fact that female readers of a completely different genre are better catered to (or as you say, over-catered to) than female readers of MY genre is something we can learn from, perhaps, but I don't consider it a substitute. If anything, it makes me feel more of a minority, because my interests are not those of the women who do get catered to by romance publishers.
Jan. 13th, 2009 06:04 am (UTC)
To explain what I was getting at (and please understand this, I am a writer, not an editor, and I would like to see more more women writing and reading sf. I put my money where my mouth is: I mentor a fair number of writers and that group is slightly biased toward female writers): Throughout history the oppressed or discriminated against have protested and fought to have that wrong righted. There have also always been those among the 'oppressors' or beneficiaries of the system, who have stood up for the oppressed and said 'this is unfair'(yes, I am related to William Wilberforce.:-)). History is also full of the previously disadvantaged becoming the dominant group, and instead of creating a 'fair' environment, simply turning the tables. Usually this is posited as redress... And the children of those once disadvantaged will inform you it is their right to have extra perks and privelge - because they suffered hundreds/thousands/millions of years oppression at the hands of those they're now disadvantaging (!?). Or - to use a largely made up example - you ethnic Chinese - 20% of the population, we Malay now exclude you from government, 90% of business, 89% teaching... etc. but you still dominate drycleaning! That's not right! That's unfair! Well, yes it is, to the kid who wants nothing more than to work in drycleaning.

My point is yes, we need to open up drycleaning. But if you open up drycleaning without also making an effort to include the Chinese in far bigger sectors - actually you're only making the overall situation WORSE. If the youngster wanting to enter the drycleaning trade says "I want proportional representation in all fields, even if that means we have allow for 20% Chinese government officials, so we can have 80% Malay drycleaners." - that is fair. You'll even get some drycleaners to support the idea. If he says "I want your field to open up, but the rest is just fine" -- then he's NOT after 'fair' at all. He's just looking out for himself. He's using unfair as an excuse for personal benefit. That is a weaker moral position and a lot harder for drycleaners to find acceptable. That was what I meant by moral position. I'm all for supporting 'fair', even if it is not in my best personal interests. If you're quite happy with other things being unfair as long is not to you -- why should I be interested in supporting you?

It's even more complicated in writing because a lot of us actually do cross genres. (smile) I know you're only interested in drycleaning/sf - but I do hard drycleaning, humorous drycleaning, Space opera, historical fantasy, high fantasy, mystery, teens YA, and yes romance - where I have to use a pen name. Five out of eight have more female than male writers. And they're the biggest selling five. The biggest one (52% of all sales) is 99% female. I'm good friends with a fair number of other authors who also cross (or want to -you get stuck) a lot of genres. It's very widespread. So: I'd like to welcome you to drycleaning. Your support for representivity in all fields would go a long way to convincing me you wanted fairness and not that you were just looking out for number one. I'm all for fair, but not got a lot of time for 'I'm looking out for number one, by complaining it's unfair.'
Jan. 13th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)
To explain what I was getting at - historically one of the way women have been silenced from protesting and discussing their issues, is by people bringing up other issues and insisting they are just as or more important. (hey, you're upset about sexism? what about racism! go look at that. go look at women in africa, they're so much worse off than you. poverty. got to fix poverty before sexism is relevant!)

All those issues are important. It's hard thing to argue against. I'm not going to say that I'm disinterested in the discrimination issue you raise - I've already said that I think you have a really good point about male writers in romance.

But you seem to be saying that your support of *our* issue is conditional. That you expect the women (readers, writers, editors, publishers) who have an issue with their representation in science fiction to stop what they are doing, and fight your battle first, putting their energy into ensuring that there are no instances in publishing where men are discriminated against before we take the time to fight our own battle, bringing attention to our own issue and fight.

Basically it seems to me that you are saying that your problem is more important than mine, and that I should help you out before I expect you to lift a finger in my direction. To be honest, that's the kind of support that I think we can do without. It would be better if, as I have done for you, you acknowledge that I have an issue to deal with, and move on with our separate lives.

All this of course is theoretical. I may be a woman, but I have no power over the romance industry. I can't contact my pals in the International Women's Association and suggest they put the whole men in publishing issue on the table so we can all vote on it.

I have already said that I support your issue. I did so without expecting anything in return.

I really think you should stop and think about what you are saying, and why a man who interrupts a woman who is talking about her problem to demand that she solves his problem before she bothers with her own (and implies strongly as you did that she is selfish for doing anything less) is not going to be all that well received by an educated feminist.
Jan. 14th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
Firstly- what do I want: just an aknowledgement that gender discrimintion is problem no matter who does it. There is a lot of denial that it even exists if women do it to men.

Secondly this is not a seperate issue. Fiction across genres shares the same publishing houses (or ownership), and often the same agents and writers.

As far a man interrupting a woman and demanding she solves his problem. (Smile) - I'm a poor backcountry boy. Ignorant about these social niceties. More access for women writers to sf (say 8% of the fiction market) has been discussed and supported by many men at least since I bought my first sf mag (second hand) more than 30 years back. It's moved a long way since then. Still has a way to go, and I'll go on supporting it. So, now we've spent 30 years and moved forward a long way on women getting more access to 8% of the market... when is polite for me to suggest that men should get _any_ access at all to 52% of the market in which there has been no movement at all? Another year? ten? When the 8% moves from 70% parity to 100%? Do you want it said that women writers are 76% of the market? Is that a good thing for women, writing or reading? Finally, it's not my problem. Really it's everyone's, and it should be more of a problem to women, and even more for educated feminists.
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 15th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - davefreer - Jan. 15th, 2009 05:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 15th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - davefreer - Jan. 15th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 15th, 2009 11:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 13th, 2009 03:46 am (UTC)
You said a lot more than that. You did some dismissive handwaving of the decline; with imputations it might be the fault of more women being published. Anyone can play that game. It might be the decline of this slice of SF might be slower than otherwise because of the wider range of writers.

There isn't a real "moral" equity between romance and SF, because the issue isn't who's writing, it's who's being bought (and not by the public, though suppositions about market is part of the (at least subconcious) decision making process.

I have seen someone (girliejones, IIRC> saying they'd like to see more male writers of romance. I recall some heated debates on the subject, at least a decade ago (when I was more active in running a bookstore, and such things mattered more to me, as the sales of romance paid the bills).

Honsestly, from a purely personal experience, women do a better job of emulating the male voice in literature than men seem to manage women. I suspect this (which is tangiental) is because the male voice in literature is predominant (in character POV), and so they have better models of how it's modelled.

Then again, it might be that because I'm male it irks me to see women who are either flat, or just male sorts of characters whom I am told are female.

That this question keeps coming up, and the responses are so typically defensive (and repetitive) tells me 1: There is a problem and 2: most people aren't willing to admit it.
Jan. 13th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC)
Terry, that's not dismissive handwaving. That's statistical demolition. The only handwaving was me trying not to be utterly brutal about it. There is no statistical evidence to support the conclusion that the decline of short fiction markets for sf has anything to do with there being lower proportions of female writers on the TOC. The short fiction market has been in decline for a LONG time. At the same time the female representivity on the TOC has slowly risen. These are both provable and well established facts. Those are two trends running in opposite directions and there is no direct correlation whatsoever between them. Is that clear enough? The only correlation there is, is a directly inverse one - which could be interpreted as more female TOC: less readers. I stated clearly and unequivocally that I belived that to be spurious. There is a correlation for example between the number of ducks seen flying and inches of rain. I do not believe ducks cause rain, but I can't deny the correlation exists. It's possible that rain causes ducks to fly or that both are caused by something else. What did you want me to do? pretend the correlation - which is very obvious - didn't exist? I am saying it again. I think it a spurious correlation. Short fiction is struggling for other reasons.

That does not mean I wouldn't like to see more female writers writing sf. I would. All it means is that this is a weak argument to support that idea, and actually supports the opposite conclusion. If you want, for example, to build a bridge to an island to aid tourism, and argue that it would be good for the wildlife -- when someone points out that that would be a disaster for the wildlife, that doesn't mean they don't want the bridge built or that it isn't a good idea for tourism. It just means that's a bad justification for doing so. Leaving up there simply makes it easier to shoot the project down. The sooner you get rid of it, the better.

I dealt with moral issues in a seperate post. But it's not about direct equivalences, its about showing willing.
Jan. 16th, 2009 06:57 am (UTC)
That this question keeps coming up, and the responses are so typically defensive (and repetitive) tells me 1: There is a problem and 2: most people aren't willing to admit it.

I have to agree with that. It's so frustrating to see (mostly men) blogging that says "oh this again" and I keep thinking - "well yes, we didn't fix it yet, you bet it's going to come up again"
Jan. 12th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
I think I would feel more comfortable with this argument if the increase in female space in a random ToC was more than 25% - cause that's not very convincing to me as welcoming or open.
Jan. 12th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Tell you what: make that no area is more than 75% dominated by either gender and I'll agree with you. I'd actually vote for 66% myself.
Jan. 13th, 2009 06:37 am (UTC)
I dunno. I'm not out to fix the world. Or fix it all at once. And I don't feel like I should have to negotiate about it. Alls I was saying was I wanted more women published in SF/F.
Jan. 13th, 2009 07:27 am (UTC)
(Shrug)those who want more for themselves, but have no interest in problems of others... tend to find others haven't much interest in helping them either.

What is wrong with negotiation as long as it is not a one-way street?
Jan. 13th, 2009 07:36 am (UTC)
Because it implies that you'll only fix one problem *if* we fix the other. Negotiation isn't about team work and building and working together, its about conditions and deals.

And it feels like a distraction and dilution of the initial critique I made on a subject on which I am more knowledgeable and qualified to discuss.
(no subject) - davefreer - Jan. 13th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - girliejones - Jan. 13th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - davefreer - Jan. 13th, 2009 08:14 am (UTC) - Expand

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