January 7th, 2010


Wait, what did you say?

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.