The debate about awards eligibility lists and whether they are good practice or incredibly tacky (see my link round-up here) continues.
Amal El-Mohtar responds to both John Scalzi and Adam Roberts and points out that the debate about the appropriateness of awards eligibility lists is particularly harmful to women writers, writers of colour, GLBT writers and international writers, i.e. the very same groups that both Scalzi and Roberts claim they want to see more of on the awards shortlists.
I think she makes a very good point here, cause no amount of shaming will keep the Larry Correias of this world from touting their own horn (and his approach seems to work for him and his fanbase, so more power to him), but it may just silence women writers, writers of colour and GLBT writers, many of whom already feel uncomfortable about self-promotion. So the result of shaming writers for self-promotion and awards eligibility lists will not stop the most determined (often straight white men), but may well shut up the very groups everybody claims they want to see nominated.
Besides, it’s a fact that women are judged a lot more harshly for daring to tout their own horn than men. During last year’s Hugo nomination debate (which at least only took place after the nominations were announced), those who were unhappy with the nominated works poured a lot more vitriol on the two female nominees Lois McMaster Bujold and Seanan McGuire a.k.a. than on male nominee John Scalzi, even though those who disliked Bujold’s and McGuire’s works usually disliked Scalzi’s as well. And Lois McMaster Bujold didn’t self-promote at all, whereas Seanan McGuire’s self-promotion was less in the face than John Scalzi’s, let alone Larry Correia’s. On her livejournal, Seanan McGuire discusses the reaction she received for daring to do the same thing lots of male writers do every year, namely list her eligible works, and how women are often judged harsher for daring to speak up.
Indeed, the reaction to last year’s Hugo nominations also makes me highly skeptical regarding those (male) writers and critics who claim to want to see more women and writers of colour on the awards shortlist. Because last year, when there were several women and writers of colour and international writers on the Hugo and Nebula shortlists, there also was a lot of hue and cry of “Of course, we want women and writers of colour and international writers, but not those women and writers of colour and international writers, because they’re too nostalgic and old-fashioned, not modern enough and don’t write about things we consider interesting.”
I don’t doubt that the desire of many in the SFF community to see more women and writers of colour and GLBT writers and international writers recognised is genuine. However, several people want women and writers of colour and GLBT writers and international writers to sound just like straight, white, Anglo-American men.
For example, during one of the many genre dust-ups last year, a male critic said that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series was old-fashioned popcorn space opera, that could have been written in the 1950s, which made it unworthy of recognition in his eyes. So a space opera series with a disabled protagonist who is nonetheless the smartest person in the room and with lots of strong female characters, a series set in a world that is rapidly transformed by advances in bio-technology, where uterine replicators have freed women from the burden of child-bearing and where sex change procedures and intersex people are normal, and – in the case of last year’s Hugo nominee Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance – a novel featuring an interracial relationship could have been written in the 1950s? Really?
I already linked to this great post by Ann Leckie (whose Ancillary Justice will hopefully gather lots of Hugo and Nebula nominations this year), in which she countered the novelty mania and vehement anti-nostalgia in parts of the SFF community by pointing out that particularly for writers from traditionally marginalised groups, even being allowed to play in the sand-box can be a great victory. Here is a quote:
And the whole “escape the suffocating weight of Tradition!” thing doesn’t look the same from every angle. Consider that for women, POC, and LGBTQ writers the question of forebears and tradition can be a fraught one. “She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.” Such writers have either been denied their own tradition by this kind of erasure, or have been repeatedly erased from the dominant one. To some of us, belonging to a tradition is a valuable and hard-won thing. Sure, we all probably could profit from looking at our assumptions and cultural baggage, and being aware of that as we write.*** But burning the whole castle down? When we’ve uncovered and rebuilt these parts here, so painstakingly? When we love the castle so much and want so badly to be there, even when others are trying to push us out? “Burn it all down and start over!” doesn’t sound terribly appealing. Quite the opposite.
Gwenda Bond also points out the problems many women have talking about their own work and the nasty reactions they often get when they do, referring to both the current debate about awards eligibility lists and reactions to the recent profile of Jennifer Weiner in the New Yorker and the general reaction to Jennifer Weiner whenever she points out that her books aren’t all that different in theme from Jonathan Franzen’s and that she’d like a bit of recognition, too.
Justine Larbalastier points out that awards eligibility lists are uncomfortable for many and not that important in the YA field anyway, since all the important awards are juried.