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the latest in female presence in SF ToCs

So, as I was working through the 70 odd submissions to Sprawl, I read each submission and I judged it on the quality of the writing, the execution of the plot, the tone of the piece and how close the work was to my idea of a suburban story. Just before I sent out my acceptances, I pulled out all the stories I was choosing and put them in a new sheet of the spreadsheet with their word counts to check how much I was going to buy and take a final look at the line up. At that point I had a look at the gender balance - which at that point was 50:50, this might shift a bit as I tie up a few loose ends.

I just don't seem to have a problem with the gender balance thing. And I don't specifically slush for it.

Here then is the latest in the ongoing attempt to deal with other people's issues of selecting stories: Realms of Fantasy is having an all female issue. Um, be warned that the submission guidelines are highly offensive, referring to professional female writers as "girl writers" (sorry I vomited a bit in my mouth typing that) whilst female artists are referred to as "ladies" (I always read that in a pimp-voice - layyydiees).

Catherynne Valente says it best here:

But creating Very Special Issues once in a 15 year run isn't the same as addressing the problem head on by understanding the psychology at play and changing the editorial paradigm. It's just a bone, thrown.

And she's right because it not only acknowledges that you have a problem, but it seeks out not to address the why, not even to address if it is somehow to do with how the editor reads and selects stories. Instead it sets up a series of assumptions - in the world where Douglas Cohen is only selecting from female submitters, he will select the best stories and put together a female-heavy ToC. But he is unable to do that under other circumstances. That says to me that the problem is not with the submissions.

I also like this comment from Valente, cause it sums up why I am no longer a buyer of this magazine:

I also shudder to think what the cover will be on this. It's gonna be bad, y'all. Bad.

Tansy Rayner Roberts discusses the issue of tokenism here. She says:

Publishing is a meritocracy. But merit is subjective, and it is fluid. Editors who read “without considering matters or gender, race or author background” and yet consistently publish work which is about the default white male gaze do need to be challenged by their audience, if that audience has an interest in diversity in fiction. Sometimes affirmative action, of whatever kind, is necessary to help editors (not necessarily male editors) find value in stories that they might have missed out on otherwise – not because they are deliberately creating a culture of sexism (or racism, etc, let’s stick to sexism for now) but because their actions and to some extent their personal taste are unconsciously supporting said culture.

Which, you know, if you’re only interested in an (aging) readership of a certain kind of bloke, is just fine. Slap a label on the magazine which says ‘SF/Fantasy for Men’ and be done with it. (or just put a cover on it where a madeuppy woman has her boobs falling out of chain mail, this has a similar effect) Sure, you might lose some audience – both male and female readers – but at least you’re being honest about where your priorities are.

Personally I spent a lot of 2009 thinking about the issue of sexism in specfic fiction, some of it was done here on this blog, some of it done offline with friends and colleagues. At the end of the day, I think that there is an enormous untapped niche readership market in specfic. I'm part of that market and I want to publish books that are the kind of books that *I* want to read. Books with stories that speak to me, represent me, explore the kind of issues I am grappling with and validate me as an equal, interesting and important part of society and the world. I don't want to be invisible in the future or not part of someone's magically fantastic world. I wanna play. And the older I get, and the more pressed for time I am, the less tolerant I am of outlets that don't care about the kind of reader that I am. Do I care that Realms of Fantasy will have an all female issue? Will it change whether I buy their magazine or not? No.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
Is Realms of Fantasy being magically edited in the past?
Jan. 6th, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
Jan. 6th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
Perhaps in 1952?
Jan. 6th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
It may be just cos I'm tired, but I'm now idly wondering if they'll ever edit a special 'bald men' issue, to show that the follicly challenged menfolk are just as worthy as the fully hirsute. They could do one of those every 15 years as well, as a companion issue.

I really *hope* this thought is the result of being tired...
Jan. 6th, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
I think I've read that issue - it's about how a bunch of fat, bald men are awesome and get all the babes.
Jan. 6th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
hahahahahaha. Oh. Wait. That's not funny.
Jan. 6th, 2010 05:08 am (UTC)
I will give you everything else in your comments, but you object to "ladies"?
Jan. 6th, 2010 05:09 am (UTC)
I do in the context it was used in the submission guidelines, yes.
Jan. 6th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
yeh; condescending or what?

I've been reading really interesting stuff about attitudes towards women in the Middle Ages (bear with me!). The suggestion is that there was a shift c.12th century from being largely condemnatory, in the (all-male-preserve) literature, to being some of that but also introducing courtly literature, which put the woman on a pedestal. My point is, this argument says *both ways were bad for women*. I think this relates to the language of 'ladies'. I also think this is a totally random comment, but it just occurred to me so I thought I'd share.
Jan. 6th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Eleonore of Aquitaine did that.
Jan. 6th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
Maybe. She didn't start it, though, and wasn't responsible for all of it.
Jan. 6th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
I'm actually pretty sure she started it. There was a troubadour culture in Laungedoc before her time but nothing like the ideals of courtly love that she later introduced.
Jan. 6th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of Realms of Fantasy. I also make a point out of mostly buying female SF/Fantasy. In a world where women are what, 60-80% of all readers?, it seems silly and contraproductive to decide to cater solely to conservative guys.

I'm a bit curious of these male authors that they publish as well. Are they too still stuck in the world of Asimov and Heinlein or have they read women like Bujold or May too? Because if they're clinging to the old molds they'll be hopelessly stuck in the backwater.
Jan. 6th, 2010 11:53 pm (UTC)
Realms of Fantasy is traditionally hard to source in hard copy. I agree with you about the potential market of female readers!
Jan. 6th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
in the world where Douglas Cohen is only selecting from female submitters, he will select the best stories and put together a female-heavy ToC.

-->Just as a point of fact, Douglas Cohen is not doing the selecting. Shawna McCarthy is still the fiction editor of RoF. Doug reads the slush, and he gives Shawna what she tells him to give her.

As another point of fact, RoF traditionally has a slightly higher ratio of women:men published than what is submitted to their slush pile.

I'm with you that I don't think the All Women Issue is necessarily the best idea, and it certainly wasn't presented well, but the real problems are sufficient in themselves without bolstering them with inaccuracies.
Jan. 6th, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
I'm not surprised that RoF has a slightly higher ratio of women: men published than what comes to their slushpile, but it's still in many ways a magazine that caters to male readers and has been for some years.

Sadly having a female editor does not necessarily mean that the tastes/vibe of the magazine are appealing to a general female audience. Fantasy has a male editor and has a far better gender balance.
Jan. 7th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
Fantasy Magazine has both a male editor, Sean Wallace, and a female editor, Cat Rambo. Their gender balance is not just far better, but basically reversed, with 60-70% stories by women. This does not concern me in a marketplace where most venues continue to publish in the other direction.

I find Realms of Fantasy to be generally feminine-friendly, objectification in the artwork aside (although I see plenty of objectified female bodies in things which are marketed to straight women, so I'm not sure why female objectification is supposed to be necessarily a sign of intent to market toward men). Also, I've found the market to be surprisingly GLBT-friendly -- recent issues featured "Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts" and "The Fireman's Fairy."
Jan. 6th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
Doug might slush for Shawna and give her what she tells him to but its still filtered through his reading interpretation of that.

I've read a fair bit of RoF (and compared it to a fair bit of what else is published) and it might slush slightly more women to men out of its slush pile but its still not a magazine directed to and for women readers.

I'm pretty sure that any inaccuracies that you might have pulled out here have not overly affected the dicussion.
Jan. 7th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
"Doug might slush for Shawna and give her what she tells him to but its still filtered through his reading interpretation of that."

I apologize if I'm repeating what you already know, but it's my understanding that all stories sent to Realms by previous contributors are pulled automatically out of the slush and sent to Shawna.

That means that the only stories over which Doug is exercising any discretion over (and again, this is a decision of whether or not to pass them up to Shawna) are stories by authors who have not appeared in the magazine before. I'm not sure what percentage of stories in RoF are by repeat authors, but it's probably a decent chunk.
Jan. 8th, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)
In one recent year, according to Doug Cohen's blog, 27 of ROF's 36 published stories never saw the slushpile. Stories skip their slush, if I understand correctly, when they're from authors ROF's already worked with or from writers who're well-known enough to be able to count on their general quality.

- Ed Robertson
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:03 am (UTC)
Thanks I was going to say similar - that from reading his blog I understood that very few of the stories that Doug even pulls from the slush make it into the magazine. This makes it ridiculously hard for new writers to even be seen by the female editor and unlikely to actually see print.
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:39 am (UTC)
"This makes it ridiculously hard for new writers to even be seen by the female editor"

Doug didn't pull only nine stories from the slush. Only nine of the stories that were pulled made it into teh magazine.

"This makes it ridiculously hard for new writers to even be seen by the female editor and unlikely to actually see print."

The first part of this isn't true (ridiculously hard to even be seen by the female editor). The second part (unlikely to actually see print) is true, but it's true for almost any magazine.
Jan. 8th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC)
Ah ok. That's true, I think he normally reports it as slush survivors. And I don't know what level he sends stories up to Shawna at (maybe he just culls for definite nos).
Jan. 7th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
Your post has been linked in a Linkspam collection.

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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