May 31st, 2009



I was playing feminist bingo before with comments made in reference to the discussion previously on this blog. Over 40 people were discussing how they were offended or taken aback by a review. This became a valid discussion on a feminist issue. However, some discussion took place elsewhere focussing on the public treatment of the reviewer, taking the issue away from the subject at hand. In this reading, we became the "angry bitches" rather than female readers and writers with valid opinions to be expressed.

It has been suggested that complaints should have been emailed to the Managing Editor directly to ask for the review to be pulled. This didn't occur to me for a number of reasons:

1) I don't believe in censorship; and,
2) How would that have solved the problem? It seems to me that to discuss what was offensive about the review is more productive than a general silencing of the matter. Not embracing discussion and exchange of perspective/experience, particularly from opposing viewpoints, could be seen as, in this instance, not just anti-feminist, but anti-intellectualist.

It's implied that the appearance in the comments to my blog post by the reviewer, and his apology, cleared the matter up. While this is of course appreciated, and it was acknowledged as such, this does not negate the discussion. The discussion is not actually changed by the intent of the reviewer. No, he didn't mean to come across that way, but that doesn't mean the piece didn't offend.

What I was really interested in was how the discussion revealed how the women in Aussie spec fic feel - there is no doubt that people found the review patronising and perhaps sexist. But what I thought was interesting was how the reviewer came in to clarify elements of the review. By "usual contenders", he meant the usual female writers, but women interpreted that to mean "other than women". Whether or not that is what he meant, what is interesting is this assumption reveals how women in our community and in SF generally feel. And what that means is that, even when you are not intending certain references, they may touch and press on buttons that exist. Much like any other kind of reading (like me taking a Jewish reading of a work that may or may not be evident for the average reading). It's just a different reading of a work. And I thought it was interesting here as perhaps it revealed more about the underlying feelings of women in SF in Australia than anything else. And that was, to me, the most productive outcome of this discussion.

When you publish critical work on the internet, it becomes fair game to likewise be critiqued. Without thoughtful, critical, reflective review that is allowed to be likewise available for the same, and without writers, reviewers, editors and publishers able to facilitate, hear and take on board feedback and criticism - a healthy function of critique - we, Australian publishing, will never be more than we are now. There isn't a writer whom I have spoken to who doesn't have goals and direction of where they want to go from here; not a single one who doesn't want to strive and break out and be more, better, than they are now. As a publisher, I want to be bigger and better than I am now. I strive for it. And I am limited by the standard of submissions that are made to me. If I don't lift my standards progressively over time and demand that others do so to meet them, I will never produce more and better than I am and do now. If I see complacent work asking to be taken as seriously as other thought-out, worked on and reworked pieces, I am going to kick arse, and I make no apologies for it.

Australian publishing is not a zero sum equation. There's room for everyone. But so too, we all contribute to the standard by which we judge the "average" - if we increase the "average", we all get better.