The Latest on the Women in SFF Debate

I’ve been busy with other things these past few days, but meanwhile this year’s women in SFF debate is still going on. But then when is it ever not? Still, here are the latest links:

As part of the Fantasy Book Cafè‘s “Women in SF&F” month, Kate Elliott offers her take on the current debate about the skewed gender balance in reviews. Meanwhile, iO9 weighs in as well.

Also as part of the Fantasy Book Café‘s “Women in SF&F” month, Juliet E. McKenna lays out the many ways in which the skewed gender balance in reviews and the resulting lack of visibility hurts women writers, because it helps to perpetuate the self-fulfilling prophecy that women don’t write SFF and that they don’t sell, even if they do.

As forhow this works in practice, Australian SFF writer Patty Jansen reports that a publisher told her point blank that they are not interested in hard SF by women writers because of the assumption that women don’t read hard SF and men won’t read books by women. It’s their loss, because Patty writes SFF with great characters of both sexes and diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Renay at Lady Business did a similar breakdown for various review blogs. Apparently, this IMO well reasoned post was considered hugely controversial at the sort of places where the mere idea that a woman might have something to say is considered controversial, so here are the ladies of Lady Business reacting to the reactions.

Talking of reactions, Natalie at Radish Reviews, who pointed out that RT Book Reviews does review plenty of SFF by women and that the majority of their reviewers are female, recounts the reactions her post got, which mainly were along the lines of “RT? Who the fuck are they? And anyway, their reviews are too short and not detailed enough and therefore not proper criticism. Plus, they also review romance, so why should we take them seriously?” You can see an example of this (involving at least one critic who claimed he wanted to see more diversity in SFF) in this Twitter conversation.

What annoys me most about all of those “Well, RT doesn’t count” arguments, even more so than the “Criticism – Ur doing it wrong” one, is “But RT is a romance publication, so who cares what they have to say about SF? After all, Strange Horizons doesn’t review romance either.” My answer to this would be, “Well, why don’t they?” Because it is certainly telling that RT Book Reviews, though primarily a romance publication, reviews SF, fantasy, crime fiction and lots of other genres, whereas the main SFF review publications only stick to speculative fiction with the occasional excursion into literary SFF, while excluding certain subgenres like urban fantasy, even though they clearly are speculative fiction. It’s widely known that romance readers are not just very avid readers, but also willing to read across genres. So why aren’t SFF readers willing to step outside their genre bubble?

Also at Radish Reviews, Natalie offers her take on How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ, which even thirty years after its first publication is still as pertinent as ever. Whenever the issue of women in SFF comes up, as it does every couple of months or so, I always find myself reminded of How to Suppress Women’s Writing.

Regarding the all-male Clarke Award shortlist, Farah Mendlesohn has now read the various novels by women that were submitted for the award and comes to the conclusion that only four adult books by women and another four YA novels could be considered SF and that she probably wouldn’t have nominated any of those books either. Alas, this is more a statement about the sad state of SF publishing in the UK, where novels by women are almost impossible to sell due to publisher and bookseller bias. Interestingly, this also echoes my experiences when walking into UK bookshops looking for SFF. Books by female SFF authors, even if those women writers are British, popular and/or award-winning, are a lot more difficult to find in UK bookstores than books by male authors of similar standing. Now there are some male writers who are notoriously difficult to find in the UK (Simon Green comes to mind, even though he is British) as well, but there are far more women.

Over all the discussion about this year’s all-male shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, it’s easily forgotten who actually won. Well, in this case it was Chris Beckett for his novel Dark Eden. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. The premise of an isolated lost space colony is fairly familiar, but then a lot of good SFF is based on very familiar premises. Nice cover, though.

Finally, C.P.D. Harris wonders why so much epic fantasy slavishly recreates medieval gender roles (or what is widely perceived to be medieval gender roles) and ideas of consent, if these issues don’t have any actual impact on the plot. After all, it’s fantasy, so writers are free to divorce themselves from historical reality or what they believe historical reality to be.

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6 Responses to The Latest on the Women in SFF Debate

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  2. Natalie L. says:

    Thanks for the linkage–I really appreciate it!

    I have some theories about why many SFF readers don’t want to step outside their genre bubble but they’re only half-baked at the moment.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the great posts. And I’d certainly be interested in your theory once it’s fully baked.

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