gender kerfuffle

“Kerfuffle” is such a great word.

I’ve said before that my usual mode of feminism is to wander blithely about doing whatever it is I feel like doing, happily oblivious to factors that are supposed to be oppressing me into not doing said thing. I won’t claim it’s the best mode in the world, but it works for me.

So apparently one of the things I’ve been oblivious to is a perception that F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, for those not eyeball-deep in the field’s jargon) is unfriendly to women writers and/or readers. As in, they publish substantially more men than women (a verifiable statistical fact), and perhaps publish fiction of a more “masculine” type (an evaluation that’s being vigorously debated in many places). This all came to my attention through a pair of posts by Charlie Finlay.

The chain goes thusly: Fewer women send stories to F&SF than men. Fewer women are published in F&SF than men. (Side tangent on the chain: this may mean fewer women read F&SF than men.) This creates a perception that F&SF is not friendly to women. Therefore, fewer women send stories to F&SF than men.

Watch it go round and round.

Charlie’s suggestion to fix this is to schedule a day (August 18th) for a hundred women to send stories to F&SF. I haven’t waded through the morass of responses to his suggestion, but I did make a comment I decided I wanted to elaborate here, namely, that I have no particular interest in participating. Why? Because I send to F&SF all the time anyway. I have no fewer than thirty-four rejection half-sheets from them (some from JJA, some from GVG), and I’m expecting my thirty-fifth any day now. Some women may have given up on subbing there due to a perception that they aren’t welcome, but I’m not one of them. I could send in a story that day, but I don’t really see that it would constitute much of a message.

I’d be more interested if the campaign was to get a hundred women who have given up on sending stories there, or who never tried at all, to send something in. Reportedly both John and Gordon have said they would like to publish more women, but they don’t get enough subs from them. Provided they’re telling the truth (and I’m happy to grant them the benefit of that doubt), then we don’t need to be sending a message to F&SF. We need to be sending a message to the women who are avoiding it. (And, perhaps, F&SF needs to send out a message of its own — but that isn’t in my control.) Bombarding F&SF, not with women as a blanket category, but with voices they haven’t been hearing, strikes me as a more meaningful response to the situation.

One way or another, once “Selection” comes home, I’ll be polishing something up and adding to their slush pile once again. If I’ve felt unwelcome there (i.e. those thirty-four rejections), I’ve attributed it to my lack of writing skill, not my gender.

0 Responses to “gender kerfuffle”

  1. kleenestar

    The stat that might be most meaningful is acceptance rates for men and women in F&SF. Many, many places (from magazines to scientific journals to companies) that think they’re gender-neutral and treat women fairly actually give significant preference to men – as much as 400% in some scientific fields. Even when “prominence in the field” and “quality of work” are controlled for as much as they can be, women generally get the shaft. (And that doesn’t mean that people have to be HUGELY biased. If you do the math, even a 1% bias against women in each decision works out to a significant practical disadvantage over time.)

    While I think this idea of getting lots of women to send stories in is a good one, and I agree with you that it really should be women who aren’t already submitting, I think the real investigation that has to happen here is about whether the perception of not being welcome is *factually* correct. Getting a hundred women to send in stories isn’t going to fix any structural issues that may exist. Finding out the truth about the perceived bias, on the other hand, can go a long way toward correcting it all by itself; when this sort of unconscious bias was pointed out to people *with facts and figures to back it up* they were able to implement fairer judging criteria and the like.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, certainly, and given the wild inconsistency of numbers I’ve seen just for what percentage of stories published in F&SF are by women, there seems a pretty clear lack of dependable statistics. And once you get them, what do you do with them? I don’t require F&SF to have the same acceptance rates for men and women if one group or the other isn’t writing the kind of stories they want; that could be one cause of any bias. And what kinds of gendered writing get what kinds of reception in spec fic more broadly? Plus the numbers ought to be compared against other magazines, and against the field as a whole, etc, etc, etc . . . and that moves into a mode of feminism that other people do better than I do.

  2. ombriel

    I think the problem is twofold:

    a) Women not submitting enough, because women are discouraged by culture at large from speaking their mind, putting themselves out there in the world, creating things, producing creative works, and tenaciously making them seen/heard/read/etc. It part of the gendering process.

    And b) stories that tend to speak to men’s experiences are normative–that is, men’s experiences are seen as neutral, while things that speak to women’s experiences are seen as “different” or tangental or peripheral. Now I’m not saying that men and women have different experiences across the board, nor am I saying that men and women write differently categorically. But there is a privleging of stories that somehow speak to “maleness” as a constructed category. Consequently, I think certain kinds of stories are favored in the markets, and these stories tend to be told by men (but aren’t always, nor do men not tell other kinds of stories).

    I think the solution is not drowning F&SF in a deluge of subs written by women, but to challenge what is seen as “relevant” or “worthwhile” stories, and be aware that these categories are inflected with gendered valuation, and to interogate the criteria by which stories are judged. To contradict what I just said, maybe drowning JJA and GVG in subs written by women will make them more aware of their own invisible, gendered biases (assuming they aren’t already). I don’t know.

    I do think, though, that women especially need to push past their gender training and be tenacious about submitting.

    • ombriel

      Hell, women need to be tenacious about their writing in general. AND there need to be editors who are willing to interrogate their assumptions that may determine whether women’s stories, as a category, are published less than men’s.

      Statistics can be found here: I think this pretty much shows that something is awry–just what is is up for debate–but I’m going to venture that women just not being good enough writers is not one of the factors that goes towards producing these statistics.

    • Marie Brennan

      The first facet of the problem is why I’d be more interested in seeing new people encouraged to send stories to F&SF. The second facet is the one that has a subset of the kerfuffle questioning why they should try to reform F&SF at all: the magazine has its style, and a readership which subscribes to it for that style; other markets, perhaps, are better homes for other kinds of stories, and let F&SF petrify in its own irrelevance (to paraphrase some of the notions I’ve seen).

      I keep doing what I keep doing; I send my stories in, to there and other places, and haven’t the blindest clue what gendered categories or what-have-you my work speaks to. They’re the stories I want to tell, is all.

      • ombriel

        other markets, perhaps, are better homes for other kinds of stories, and let F&SF petrify in its own irrelevance

        Hmmm. I see your point. The problem I see with that is that F&SF is considered pretty front and center within spec fic. And as long as it’s defining the genre to a degree, it has a lot of sway over what others see as desirable/necessary in a story. Hopefully people would/will/do find venues for alternate forms of stories (whatever form those take), but nonetheless, there’s prestige in selling to F&SF…more than in, say, your 1/4-a-cent small press. That makes it, well, normative. Hegemonic, even. It gets to help make the calls about what stories are told.

        At least that’s what my enervated brain is telling me at the moment.

        And, all this has a kernal of a story in it; it can feel it.


    • kleenestar

      I think I love you.

    • princess706

      I prefer to think that women allow themselves to be discouraged.

      But then, you know way more about this than I do. You study it more than I do. You focus on it more than I do.

      Me, personally? I challenge anyone to discourage me from doing something I’ve set my mind to. Perhaps I’m fortunate that way.

      • ombriel

        I prefer to think that women allow themselves to be discouraged.

        I’d agree; I’d guess that many do. And why is that? Is it because there’s something “naturally” in women–in their spirit, in their biology–that makes them give up?

        Of course not. It’s learned behavior; it’s gender training, which comes not from within women themselves, but from culture. It’s a lot more complex than women as a class simply give up.

        • moonvoyager

          Plus, any minority that is discriminated against tends to internalize the negative perceptions, no matter how mild (think about how many women were actively opposed to women getting the right to vote in America, saying that they actually believed that women were incapable of making political decisions). This is one of the unfortunate truths that too many in the dominant class seem to ignore when they accept these internalized negative perceptions on the part of the minority in question as proof that nothing needs to be done to change a situation (well, if women themselves are saying/not doing whatever, then clearly…)

          However, I don’t believe that there’s a one-to-one correlation between biology and the presence of socially perceived characteristics of femininity/masculinity. Clearly, there needs to be more acceptance of “feminine themes.” But do these all come from female writers? There are many men who have won the Tiptree award. And then there are all the issues pertaining to the GLBT community. Gay men who write on themes/subjects that, while they involve male characters, might be characteristically seen as “feminine” subjects. Transgendered persons who write primarily from the POV of male characters because this is their chance to freely express the person they are inside…the person that those looking at a female body are not going to see. (I am a feminist. I’m also not the woman you see before you. I resent hearing, implictly or overtly, that by identifying with men and writing most frequently about male characters, let alone publishing under my initials, that I am “betraying my gender.”)

          I do lament the fact that there is an inherent bias that is all the more pernicious today because some advances have been made–enough that some people, even educated women, try to deny that bias still exists. Yet I also feel–perhaps more to the point–that people should be free to write across gender boundaries. To believe that women inherently write differently or about different themes than men is to privilege the same argument that would tell us that “women can’t write good hard SF” because they are not naturally inclined toward science, etc.

          I think there is definitely still a large and often unconscious bias in society against women…or at least in favor of men. (Samuel R. Delany, in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, points out that if one looks at a crowd and perceives it to be roughly equal in numbers between men and women, an actual count will frequently reveal that women only make up 30% of the number–which seems to be what is happening in the sf/f/h publishing field–men are still the norm, so women stand out enough that even when they are only present at 30%, to the casual glance or perception of a male editor, it might seem that they were represented well enough.)

          However, I suspect that the problem runs even deeper than biology to our fundamental binary value system. The feminine itself needs to be held in equal esteem as the masculine (if a clear-cut definition of feminine versus masculine truly exists–is that not biologically, sociologically, and historically based on the very limitations we would struggle against?).

  3. elizaeffect

    Nonsense. F&SF gets all my (not very many) submissions first. I have a nice note from GVG about how “Friends in Need” wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Just because they haven’t published li’l ol’ me doesn’t mean I think there’s a massive antifeminist conspiracy.

    People are silly. πŸ™‚

    • Marie Brennan

      Likewise, though (despite the inconsistent numbers) there does seem to be a low percentage of women in the slush and in the magazine. Not necessarily a conspiracy; possibly a problem.

  4. dolphin__girl

    I’ve been watching this, too. I work with (and am friends with) someone at the bookstore, who may or may not have been the first one to say “you know, I don’t think F&SF like stories that have girl-cooties”, but she was definitely one of the forerunners, and I can safely say that some of the responses are giving the whole thing way more gravity than it merits. I know many of the people in her writing group contribute to the April 1 Strange Horizons slushbombing, she was one of the instigators of the “let’s bomb the Toronto Arts Council grant committe with genre stories this year and see if they’ll give a grant to a story with genre cooties” campaign, and this strikes me as just more fun along those lines.

    I like it because, while I’ll usually send things to F&SF (though lately I’ve started saving myself the postage), it gives me a reason to actually finish something new. Although my lesbian love muffin story is definitely rife with girl-cooties.

  5. moonandserpent

    “I won’t claim it’s the best mode in the world, but it works for me.”

    This is probably as good a time as any to mention that I really, really enjoyed looking at wedding dresses online with you and that if you ever want some assistence with more of the same, I know someone you could talk to. *ahem*

    Personally, I think Pythia is onto something when she mentions the normativity of men’s experiences as a possible contributing factor.

    Me? I still tend to think that part of the problem is that there is a certian level where Spec Fic is deeply conservative in some of it’s “values”.

  6. gollumgollum

    *God*, B. You’re such a girl.

    *ducks and runs*

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