Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tainting Sci Fi and Fantasy with Girl Cooties

I've just dragged myself home from the RWA National Convention, where I participated in the gigantic literacy signing benefit for the first time.

Yes, it was fabulous.

And, yes, I'm exhausted.

But RWA - Romance Writers of America - is my home territory. This was my fifth year going and I've been heavily involved in my special interest and local chapters. Plus, it's pretty much all girls. There's a few guys here and there, but functionally it's 2,000 women involved in some branch of romance writing and publishing.

It's really the only thing I do that's like this. Maybe it's akin to the old sorority days, but this is better because it's so profession and career-focused. They are my tribe.

In November, I plan to go to World Fantasy Con, which will not be like this. In fact, my smart friend advised me not to go. "They're not your audience," she told me. And then she told me several stories about female authors being harassed at the more hard core science fiction and fantasy conventions. I thought about this and decided that they won't be my audience if they never meet me.

I'm a little nervous though.

It reminds me of the old Dennis the Menace joke - the clubhouse with the "No Girls Allowed" sign. My feelings date back to my own childhood. That awful phase we all went through, when the boys decided that all girls had cooties (an indefinable, icky, yet dreadfully contagious thing) and that we were something to be disdained.

(Much later in life I discovered that "cooties" actually referred to head lice, but we never knew this as children. Nobody could ever tell me what a cootie was.)

I know there's lots of psychology behind this. The boys were distancing themselves from their mothers and moving into the world of men. They needed to create distance to cement their developing masculinity. But I also recall my teachers telling us about studies showing that, while girls could see themselves as boys, boys could not see themselves as girls.

The message was quite clear that being a girl just wasn't as good.

But hey - we all grew up, right? The boys rediscovered the girls and all the lovely thrill and magic of blending ourselves. And it turned out that some of the boys wanted to be girls enough to have operations to get there. Nothing was so black and white.

Still, there remains a contingent of boys who seem to be guarding the ever more rickety clubhouse. They don't want girls writing SFF and getting all that sticky, kissy shit in it. Except for maybe the Ginas, who don't act like real girls anyway. It's more okay if a girl author writes kick-ass stuff. But if we're the Margarets, starry eyed over love and romance? We are emphatically sent home, with ridicule chasing us down the street.

It's significant, I think, that I'm using an analogy that dates back to 1952. The world has changed a great deal since then. Change, however, happens in fits and starts, with little backwater stagnant pools that get left behind. Eventually those pools dry up. Or get washed into the fast-moving water of the greater flow.

Last night, a Carina Press book won RWA's RITA award. This is RWA's version of the Oscars and this marks the first time a digital press has won the award. (Another epress, Avon Impulse, also had an award winner.)

The world turns and times change.

I first read that line in Anne McCaffrey's book Dragonflight, one of the seminal SFF books, series and authors out. The line is a recurring theme and it became part of my frame of reference.

We aren't kids on the playground anymore. No one has cooties.

And the clubhouse is big enough for everyone.


  1. Wait, we have cooties? lol. Hey, loved this post. And I do love your attitude toward the portion of the SFF world who might prefer you stay in romance. {"I thought about this and decided that they won't be my audience if they never meet me.) Awesome.

    And really, with unlimited virtual shelf space, there really is room for everyone! The girls bring readers. I'd love to see a study some day about how many hardcore SFF purchases can be traced back to the much-derided Twilight as a gateway book.

    1. Ha! The "gateway book" - but I think you're right on target. I know of a lot of young women, and boys, who read the Twilight books as adolescents and went on to read more and more SFF. And yes - room for everyone!

  2. Yeah - I think there's definitely an element of not playing nicely in the sandbox that comes out when certain groups feel threatened.

    But this article by Scalzi from earlier this week seems rather apt, even though it's talking about women in geek culture in particular - you could easily apply it to genre writers (eg. romance writers at a fantasy con?)...

  3. What a great article, Allison. I love Scalzi for writing that! I think it absolutely applies.

  4. "sticky, kissy shit in it"
    this made my day :)

  5. I'm not sure they aren't your audience already. I love SF cons and attend Dragon*Con every year. When I first started attending, there wasn't a lot of women writers there but times are changing. Sherrilyn Kenyon was the guest of honor two years ago and she can pack a ballroom with her panel. I stood in line for 3 hours in 20009 (I think it was) to get a book signed by Mercedes Lackey.

    The all-boys club is falling apart and is full of us readers that want "sticky, kissy shit" at our conventions :D

    1. That's great to know, Lillie - thank you! I would totally stand in line for 3 hours to get a Mercedes Lackey sign, too.

  6. Jeffe--im goin to wfc too! Lets kick ass together there! :) lillie- i love dragon con, this'llbe my 3rd year there.

    1. Great news, Linda! It will be so fun to see you again, after two years!

    2. Mwah hah haha. I'll be there too. ;-)

    3. We three can get up to some serious sh..tuff.

  7. I don't go to these things, so I wasn't even aware there was a cootie thing going on. Color me oblivious. How silly can people be? SFF is for everyone. I hope you kick ass at World Fantasy Con (you and Linda, that is).

  8. Thanks, B.E.! I thought Scalzi's article - and the comments on it - that Allison mentioned was really enlightening.

  9. Read this with feelings of both humor and incredulity. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that there's still a 'Boys Club" in SFF. I'm usually more cynical than naive', but that one shocked me "You mean some authors are Ass-Hats?!"

    I swear to God it's fining out not everyone who got high was benign all over again. And in this, "The best of all possible worlds".

    Note: I was that kid who really never went through a phase of not liking girls. Of course, I Was engaged three times in Kindergarten. Little Johnny looks over at the girls - "I don't know what it is, but something tells me this is important. Excuse me fellas, I gotta go get a lot closer to those". Oops, I digress.

    What I meant to say was "Wrawr!- Stupid Boys, Girls can Rock!"\

    Thanks, Jeffe

    1. This made me laugh and laugh, John! Love the bit about discovering that pot smokers weren't all happy mellow people.

      I would have been one of those girls you were engaged to. ;-)