Thursday, August 2, 2012

Taking the Torch

by Allison Pang

''Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. Women have written a lot of books about dragons and unicorns, but damned few about future worlds in which adult problems are addressed."

~~ Ben Bova, addressing women writers at a Philadelphia convention. In 1980.

Well. I guess that about sums it up, doesn't it? 

I actually don't know where to begin with this topic. Mostly because I see so much of this attitude in nearly everything I like to do. Gaming. Comics. And yes, SFF.

After a while, it's hard not to think that no matter what hoops women creators have to jump through, it will never be enough to warrant the basic respect most male creators get...simply for being male.  Unless the perspectives shown are through a male gaze? They're somehow deemed feminine, and therefore unworthy.

Going off topic for a moment - let's look at Romance. As genres go, it makes some of the most money out there, because...women read. And buy books. And yet it's derided constantly by other genres and the literary crowds.

As soon as we get into that mushy stuff and talk about our feelings? It's romance. And crap.

Unless you're Nicholas Sparks, of course. Who insists he doesn't write romance at all. He writes love stories. Love stories that are all about the same and massively depressing, but hey, it's not romance and therefore? Worthy.  Even though almost all of his stories are essentially:

I love you.
I lost you.
I love you.
I found you.
I love you.
I have cancer.
I'm dead.

(Cracked lays it all down pretty nicely, and with graphics! )

 But here's the thing. If a woman wrote such books, they wouldn't be considered literature. They'd mostly like get put into "women's lit" or "chick  lit" - just the whole idea that there's a separate genre for women writers immediately puts us in a lower position. Our writing isn't being compared to other writers (eg. mostly white male writers, thanks), so much as pigeon-holed away so they don't have to rub shoulders with it.

Now, there is some great discussion on Kate Elliot's blog and NK Jemisin 's blog about women in epic fantasy and the male gaze. I found Jemisin's post in particular rather telling, simply because she talks about the issues she's had with some readers accepting her books as epic fantasy...because of the sex scenes. (Sex being one of those things that is icky.) 

But even aside from whatever issues there are in writing and books, there's still just a general lack of respect that occurs in the SFF enviroments. I know of at least one con where a female panelist was referred to as "the token female" by the moderator. Right off the bat, her position is lowered, simply by being singled out for her sex. (Don't think that's a big deal? Try replacing her with a PoC - how well would that fly?)

Or how about the recent issue over at ReaderCon - the skinny can be found over on Jim Hines' blog, but the meat of it is this post by Genevieve Valentine. Not only treated like crap on her panel...the victim of harrassment by a known con stalker. (So, we not only have vie for respect on panels and our writing...we have to guard ourselves against unwanted touching. Lovely.)

Anyway, the last thing I wanted to mention was the article that quote from the beginning came from. It's here - from the NY Times. Written in 1982. And it's a fascinating breakdown of women in the SF/F industry. And the thing that really struck me was all the names - famous writers all - Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, and many more. Many of these authors are still around today. The godmothers of women sci-fi writers. But some are gone, and many are older. 

I guess what bothers me the most is that this article was written 30 years ago, about women writing 20 - 30 years before that. How much has really changed in all that time? What sorts of strides have we taken? Why are we still fighting against snide comments about sex scenes in books, or having to use our initials instead of our real names? Why are we assumed to be mere "tokens" in the industry? But more importantly - where are the torch-bearer writers of the next generation?

We have some, for sure. But not enough.

And that's the most disappointing thing of all.


  1. I always heard that Ben Bova was a real ass - looks like this documents it!

  2. Yeah. So. Did ole Ben happen to miss the fact that "The Left Hand of Darkness" is held up as a seminal work of SF? Ursula K LeGuin won both the Hugo and Nebula for that book. In 1987, Locus ranked it #2 in it's listing of the greatest SF books of all time. Andre Norton died with more than 100 books published in her name. I think it's pretty clear women have contributed plenty to the genre and a couple of trembling, narrow-minded guys can't handle the challenge.

  3. This was a great post.

    This is girl power week on Word Whores lol!

  4. You're right, Tuck. You'll have to suggest a boy-power topic. Something with mighty thews, maybe?

    1. Do men have a hard time breaking into PNR?

    2. Maybe? But Tuck writes UF and his post on Monday pointed out that he's often the token male on UF panels.

    3. Do you think male written UF is viewed in over there is the UF with sex and over here is the UF written by men and more like SSF?

  5. Well said and it makes me sad, you are so right about the Sparks double standard. I have never read his books because I thought they were chick lit books and I like monsters in my stories. The more we talk about it and show the industry and readers the hypocrisy that exists the sooner women can make some headway.