I'm sure I've said, at least in the comments, that when I talk about "gender bias" in SF/F short story outlets, I mean that in looking at an average Table of Contents and adding up the number of female to male authors, the numbers are biased towards male. Biased as in a mathematical way, "greater in number". I want to be clear though that what I do not mean is that I think that editors sit down and operate in an overtly biased manner when slushing through their submissions. I do not think that editors look at the names of writers, sort them into male and female piles and then concentrate on the male one. If I thought that that was the case, that would make the discussion so much simpler and the solution so much more obvious: Don't Do that!
What I actually think is going on is something much more subtle, something that relates to taste and engagement with stories, something that very easily can be explained away by: that story didn't talk to me/interest me/gel with me/engage me and so on.
I'm talking about the point of view and voice. Always dangerous territory to dip ones blogging toes into.
So I thought I'd use two examples - two stories, both science fiction and both written by women and published by Ben and I in our 2012 anthology last year.
In "Watertight Lies", Deborah Biancotti tells a story about the increasingly worrying issue of lack of water in Australia and how it could become the kind of resource people are prepared to kill each other over in a drying, warming climate. Her main protagonist is female and much of the story is dialogue driven as the two main characters climb down a hole into a vast underground cavern linked to a groundwater spring. There is also action and violence.
In "Fleshy", Tansy Rayner Roberts tells a story of cloning and warns of technology going bad, of playing Gpd and feeds into the familiar theme of the AI taking control and taking over. Her main protagonist is also female and the setting for this story is the family home, the scenes are things that are familiar - watching the Bold and the Beautiful and Neighbours, painting toe nails as a way of bonding, eating Tim Tams, interactions between household members in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. There's violence in this story and sex and relationships. It's as scary as the Biancotti in its implications.
Both stories leave the reader unresolved and unsure of the resolution for the female leads.
I would argue that Roberts' story is a female story. It plays on female stereotypes. It focuses on interpersonal relationships. There's affection and sexual undertones. There's a lot of scene setting and description which both paint the story and set the mood. There is much more description of relationship dynamics and much less dialogue.
I would argue in comparison that Biancotti's story is a story written *by* a woman but not a female story. It's action packed, it's about motion and movement and this is used to create the suspense. The dialogue is used for backstory and for telling the current story. There is very little about this story that requires the protagonist to be female, it's more that she just happens to be female. This is more a story about the plot and about the issue than it is about human interaction.
Yet interestingly, Biancotti's story is very much about human interaction. It's a study on the way people react when pushed to the limits of survival, both in the short and long term. Roberts' story is more about male-female interaction, to me, and how they react, and react differently, when faced with a question of survival.
Both are stories by women. I think only one is a female story. I think both show that we need more stories written *by* women and *about* women. And I would argue that whilst Roberts' story explores female narrative and point of view, Biancotti's places women front and centre in a story where traditionally women would be absent. There's no real plot device centred on the fact that she's a woman and she could just as easily be a man. However, by being a woman she demonstrates a positive role model both for the idea that women can abseil and gather scientific data and outsmart the enemy in a physical battle as well as just by being a female in a science fiction story. Full stop.