Warning! Knowing what happened to other women who dared to have opinions, be warned that trollish comments will either be deleted with extreme prejudice or held up for ridicule.
In the past few days, the ongoing discussion about women in SFF has heated up considerably. Most of this is due to some highly problematic columns and articles in the SFWA member magazine Bulletin. I’m not going to comment on the articles themselves, since I’m not an SFWA member and thus haven’t seen the magazine, which is print only (in 2013? Honest?). Besides, the issue seems to be with various articles, including one about the bikini bodies of female editors (Do I get to say that Nathan Bransford and Neil Gaiman are cute, too?) and one about Barbie of all things (liked her, played with her, collected her and designed outfits for her, but I never wanted to be her nor can I quite see what she has to do with SF). The widely reproduced Red Sonja cover image doesn’t bother me that much, but then as a long time comic and SFF reader I am desensitized to unrealistic covers. And I’m shameless enough to flaunt even really out there covers in public – hey, I read pulp mags with damsel in distress covers at university and gave everyone an earful who dared to call me out on it. And BTW, the same people who hated the sight of my superhero comics at university (without ever having read any of them) are now begging me to let them borrow those very same comics, because they never realised how good comics could be.
However, Jim Hines has got a comprehensive round-up of posts and reactions here. If like me you don’t get the actual magazine, Natalie of Radish Reviews has posted some quotes and scans of the most problematic column and it’s not pretty. Sorry, but people saying “This is kind of sexist” is not censorship, sorry.
Foz Meadows responds in detail to some of the quotes from the actual article and also makes a remark that very much matches my attitude to any sort of uproar involving the SFWA, namely that while she likes the idea of the SFWA, it’s hard to drum up interest in the internal issues of an organisation that only writers who have been trad-published by a number of approved publishers in the US. Indeed, Lavie Tidhar very much echoes my thoughts about how welcoming writers organisations (and the SFWA isn’t the only one) who have “America” in their name feel to those of us who are not Americans. Meanwhile, fantasy writer Angela Highland a.k.a. Angela Korra’ti wonders whether she even wants to join an organisation like the SFWA, even if they wanted her. And Jeanienne Frost, writer of the great Cat and Bones urban fantasy series, is theoretically able to join, but has decided not to, because of the repeated sexism issues with the SFWA. There are also reports of writers leaving SFWA over this.
I also don’t want to spare you this post by Lou Antonelli who thinks it’s all just the fault of those damn Socialists (!) who have taken over the US and the SFWA. Yes, it’s another swipe at the straw socialists who run SF. Never mind that the only place where the US is a socialist country is a parallel universe. Honestly, folks, political terms like “Nazi”, “Fascist”, “Communist”, “Socialist” or “Liberal” have defined meanings. You can’t just use them as a blanket insult for people you disagree with.
Political pundit Vox Dax a.k.a. fantasy writer and wannabe SFWA president Theodore Beale also weighs in and declares that women ruin everything. I’m probably going to regret linking to this piece, but he uses phrases like “scalzied manboobs”, so how could I not? He also expresses his issues with “romance novels in space, necrobestiality, and rehashed Regency romances”, none of which are SF in his opinion. Okay, but then neither are Mr. Beale’s religiously based fantasy novels and you know what? That’s okay. Not everything has to be hard SF.
The other current spark for discussion is of course Stuart Sharp’s “Help, romance writers are polluting SF” post that I linked to in my last “girl cooties” post. Now Jane Litte has a summary of both the SFWA and SF romance debate at Dear Author with a bonus picture of the late lamented Ned Stark (who since this week is not the only late person lamented on Game of Thrones anymore.)
K.S. Augustin offers this great rebuttal and asks why we care what “gentleman writer Stuart Sharp” has to say. It’s a harsh post, but then Stuart Sharp – pardon me, gentleman writer Stuart Sharp – did have it coming.
Here is a great quote:
The truth of the matter is, the Reader will make a decision, regardless of what people like Stuart (or I) think. Seriously, if A Gentleman Writer’s opinion meant jack shit, “Fifty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t be the runaway success that it is. I wonder if that’s really gentleman writer Stuart’s beef? Maybe he can’t write a believable sex scene worth shit, so now he’s trying to be superior about a whole genre that has (* shock * horror*) intimacy in it? It’s hilarious in a way. SF as a genre has been maligned for decades, with SF writers earnestly petitioning for “legitimacy”. And what’s the thing the gentlemen SF writers do when the genre isn’t considered as full-of-dung as it used to be? They go pick on teh wimmin. Have you ever come across such headdesk idiocy in your life?
Can I tell you something else? I’m sick of answering people like Stuart in a “reasonable manner”. They’re not reasonable, so why should I be? In fact, I’m wondering whether this is all a huge publicity stunt on his part, a way of drumming up some kind of attention, much like the naughty kid in a primary-school class showing his bare bum to the girl sitting next to him.
At SciFi Magpie, Michelle Brown wonders why a genre that considers itself as so generally forward thinking as SF and at least tries to be inclusive still has such issues with romance and whether the SFF community’s distrust of romantic plots is a symptom of the community’s continued rejection and marginalization of women.
Meanwhile, Stuart Sharp himself has written a follow-up attempting to clarify his position and stating that his original post was not intended to be misogynist and that he has actually written a lot of romance and SF romance (albeit as a ghostwriter, so we don’t know what precisely he wrote). It’s good of him to clarify his position, but it doesn’t really excuse the poorly formulated original post. Never mind that every woman who writes speculative fiction and dares to include some romance and/or sex as well as everybody who writes romance period has heard these arguments before, including the “But I like women. Some of my best friends are women” retractions. Just take a look at the current SFWA controversy to see why some women might be a tad upset.
For example – and yes, that post is connected to the SFWA controversy, but it’s also so much more – take this post by Ann Aguirre, author of the great Siratha Jax SF series and Corinne Salomon urban fantasy series, about the blatant misogynism she experienced in the SFF community and how she was not taken seriously, because her debut novel Grimspace had a woman on the cover and a female protagonist. Coincidentally, the (really great) cover of Grimspace is one of those that Stuart Sharp singled out in his original post.
Here’s a quote:
And now, here’s the second thing: I’ve been made aware of a post (that I’m not linking to) from a guy who is swinging at me again. Why? Because I’m getting my girl cooties all over his SF. He implies I’m incapable of grasping sophisticated SF references due to my gender–that I don’t actually write SF because it has women, sex, and feelings in it. I’m so tired and disheartened right now. The one bright spot was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.
But I’m still here. I’m still writing. You cannot shut me up. I will NOT SIT DOWN. I will not stand quietly by anymore. I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee.
Ann Aguirre also shares some stunningly ugly and sexist hatemail she got in response to her post. Or at any rate, it would be shocking to anyone who hasn’t hung around the internet for a while and made the mistake of reading the comments to any newspaper article about women ever. And apparently, Ann Aguirre wasn’t the only woman who spoke out about the SFWA issue who received hate mail. Silvia Moreno-Garcia collects other examples here.
On a related note, here are two great posts by Karina Cooper who wrote a very good steampunk novel as well as some urban fantasy I haven’t read yet. At her blog (which sadly I haven’t read until today), she comments both on the current SFWA controversy (with a really big image of the Red Sonja cover) and also wrote a great post about crossgenre fiction and why it’s a great thing earlier.
Here are some quotes, first from the SFWA post, with reference to a great recent post by Kameron Hurley about fighting women and stereotypes that I’ve linked to before:
I write strong characters—and by that, I mean people who are often obstinate, prideful, or fixated to the point of stupidity. While it’s true that some characters do make choices based on the mold society made of them, it is equally true that not all of them will do so—and that’s where I catch myself. One or two lapses into the virgin, et al, tropes can be easily explained as part of the mental process that shapes all of us as flawed human beings.
It’s when all of them start sprouting scales that I have to take a step back and really look at my choices.
How can I be a llama, sporting neither scales nor baby-chomping incisors, with no real urges to throw myself over a cliff to speak of, and still see llamas as scaly baby-eaterslooking for a tall cliff? It makes no sense. I am the visible proof of my own misconceptions, and yet, I gravitate to what I have been told, rather than what I know from experience.
Am I crazy?
I completely agree with this, because I also constant find myself questioning every choice my female characters make and wondering whether anybody will mistake one female character’s choice to get married, have children, live a domestic life in the place her male partner calls home as a blanket prescription for all women everywhere to do the same.
And here is another Karina Cooper quote, this one from the post on crossgenre fiction:
Why would you draw battle lines around a genre—detail it as primarily X and Y with some Z preferable if within pi constraints—if it means that you’ll be missing out on some seriously good bodies of work? Why would you limit yourself to one thing, and one thing only, when there’s a whole world of good work out there, each skating across genre lines like some kind of hopped-up venn diagram of awesome?
Every one of these books straddles genre lines in some way, and while the authors themselves may place their books squarely in one genre or another, they are widely read by faithful followers of a different genre entirely—and those people (and maybe even some authors, though maybe not the authors below) will use very angry, very defensive words to explain how the book is not at all part of that other genre at all, and how dare we make such a suggestion? (Or, conversely, of course it’s multiple genre and that’s what we like about it! Or, pfft, this isn’t my genre at all, it has kissy-face in it which makes it totally, ugh, romance…)
And frankly, if someone is so angry with their chosen genres that they feel the need to lock it down, abuse the people in that genre with them, abuse the people in the genres outside of theirs, then there’s a fundamental flaw with where that someone is choosing to stay.
At The Galaxy Express, Heather Massey responds to Stuart Sharp’s original article about the supposed inadequacy of SF romance and argues that articles like Sharp’s are actually a good thing, because it means that the wider SFF community is finally becoming aware of hybrid genres like SF romance or paranormal romance, instead of pretending those books don’t exist.
She also says, in reference to this very good post by Kameron Hurley about the whole SFWA fiasco:
You see, Mr. Sharp, “growing their own audiences” is precisely what happened with science fiction romance. It started way back in the 60s with STAR TREK fan fiction and continues today with a whole new batch of passionate, hardworking authors–all of whom, incidentally, are doing it right. Even if an author wants to write an SFR despite not having read any science fiction, power to him or her.
Fans of SFR don’t need anyone’s approval to enjoy it or write it. We already formed our own audience, our own club–a club everyone is welcome to join.
Indeed, this reminds me of a proposal I read a couple of years ago for forming a new writing organisation for all sorts of niche and crossgenre writers not well served by existing organisations like the SFWA, HWA or RWA (which was not very welcoming to digitally published writers, GLBT writers and erotica writers at the time).
And I found it, on the website of Juno Books, which started out as a small press dedicated to publishing some really good and different fantasy with female protagonists (I still have a lot of early Juno Books in my collection), then was acquired by Pocket Books and turned into a bog-standard urban fantasy imprint.
There are a sizeable number of you. Writers who write… well, what do we call it? Romantic fantasy for now… you are published by large presses and small. Maybe you write erotica, or gay romance, or urban fantasy, or romance without an HEA, or YA romance or… hey, define yourselves, you know who you are.
There’s nothing out there that really recognizes your work or promotes it or provides the sort of networking that really helps.
Some of you are the sort of veteran authors who could really provide some guidance for newbies. Some of you are riding the cusp of emerging genres or creating new ones or writing stories that cross so many genres it is hard to call it by a known name.
RISE UP! Find your sisters and brethern and start your own organization. All it takes are enough people willing to work their butts off to make it happen. They need to have the brains to try to get along and set some goals and understand that compromises need to be made sometimes. Once the ideas of what you want this group to be/do are established, writing by-laws and rules and thet stuff is easy.
That post is dated July 2007, but the points are still as pertinent today as they were six years ago. Indeed, I found myself nodding along as I read the post. So maybe the time has finally come.